Friday, July 10, 2015

Ramadan TV series 'unfaithful' to truth

 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 traitors." (...)

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

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