Dina Izzat of Al-Ahram has this fascinating interview with Albert Arie, who shares his old pictures of the Cairo Jewish quarter in 1947 with her. Arie converted to Islam to marry his wife and is one of the few Jews still in Egypt. The Ramadan TV soap opera Haret al-Yahud glamorises the poor Jewish quarter, whose inhabitants flocked to Israel after 1948, he claims. The affair between a serving Muslim officer and a Jewish woman would never have happened, he says. The exaggerated role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the series distorts the true history of Egypt's Jews, Arie adds.
The Jewish quarter of Cairo in 1947 (Al Ahram)
"It is just so unfaithful to the truth. This is not Hareit Al-Yahoud and this is not what the
Jews who lived there looked like or dressed like,” said Albert Arie.
Albert Jacques Arie, who celebrated his 85th
birthday on Thursday, has been living in the same downtown Cairo apartment
where his parents married and lived since the early 1930s.
Like other upper middle class Egyptian Jews from
downtown Cairo, Garden City and Heliopolis, Arie attended the Lycee Francais,
spoke French at home and frequented the tea rooms in the centre of the city.
While still in his teens and a student at the Fouad
I (now Cairo) University School of Arts, Albert and another member of the same
communist movement, Roger – who happened to be Jewish as well – arrived in
October 1947 at Hareit Al-Yahoud, or the Jewish Alley.
"It was my first time ever to be there and I was so struck by the images
of poverty; poverty was all over, the people were poor and the houses were
poor. They were certainly ever so remote from the images that we are being
offered in this Ramadan’s soap opera,” Arie told Ahram Online as he shared a
few black and white photos from his “excursion” to the alley only months before
the outbreak of the 1948 war.
"In reality there were very poor workers – too poor to frequent brothels
that were never in the alley anyway,” Arie said. He added that they were barely
literate and were doing small jobs to make a living.
"But, he said, “in the soap opera we see middle
class, even lower middle class, people who dance tango, read Albert Camus and
dress nicely – although of course there is a serious sartorial fault because
the way the actors are dressed in the soap opera is not faithful to the way
people dressed back then.”
The inhabitants of Cairo's Jewish quarter were poor and badly dressed (al Ahram)
Arie went on to say the Jewish Alley was never a
ghetto “because nobody was forcing the poor Jews to live there, they just
clustered there anyway.”
But for sure there was not that wide a mix of people of different faiths
and different interests,” he added.
The image that the soap opera is trying to offer is perhaps closer to
Abbassiyah or Sakakini neighbourhoods where, yes, in the mid-1940s you could
see a blend of families of different faiths from the middle class interacting
this way,” Arie said.
But it has to be called Hareit Al-Yahoud because commercially it would
make money and because clearly there is someone who decided, for one reason or
another to end the established portrayal of the Jews of Egypt as spies and
At the time, Arie said, all the leading officers
who were married to Jewish women were exempted from serving in sensitive
positions – even if their wives had converted to Islam.
There is the famous story of Othman Fawzy who was not accepted by the
Royal Guards because of his marriage with Didar, a Jewish lady who had
converted to Islam,” he recalled.
According to Arie, anyone who lived at the time
knows very well that an Egyptian officer serving in the war could not write
freely to a Jewish girlfriend.
“It is impossible; such letters would have been
intercepted immediately by the intelligence and by the army. It is silly to
even suggest that this could have happened,” he said.
Read article in full
Contested memories: narrations of Egyptian Jewish life (Oye News) by Lucia Admiraal
Re-inventing, not rediscovering Egypt's Jews