Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The politics of restoring the Maimonides synagogue

Interior of the Maimonides synagogue (photo: Joyce Dallal)

Egypt's Jews were not the only non-Muslims to be persecuted and expelled by Nasser in the 1950s, but by restoring the Maimonides synagogue, the Egyptian government is trying to show that it is not quite the fomenter of media antisemitism that it is, argues Hugh Fitzgerald in Jihadwatch. His article goes on to demonstrate that the main figures in authority, culture minister Farouk Hosni and antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass, each had their own political motives for undertaking the restoration. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

The restoration of this one synagogue connected to Maimonides, once court physician to the Fatimids, was not prompted by some sudden deep realization of the need, culturally and politically, to recognize, at least by allowing this one synagogue to be rebuilt, that for thousands of years Egypt had had Jews living in the land, that the last of them had been finally expelled or driven out by unspeakable insecurity, their lives made intolerable, by Nasser. But let's be fair, for the attacks on Jews in 1941 whipped up by Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and the grandfather of Tariq Ramadan, were not just on Jews alone, but also on Copts. And to continue the fairness theme, when Egyptians attacked non-Muslims in 1952, killing dozens of them, including eleven British citizens, Jews were not singled out.

And to be fair, after the Colonels' coup that toppled fat Farouk and the ancien regime, and then Nasser rid himself of Colonel Naguib and the others and became the Supreme Leader, and decided to seize the property of the many different "non-Egyptian" Egyptians, some of whom were the descendants of families that had lived in Egypt and contributed, for centuries, to the economy, it wasn't only Jews who suffered, but Greeks, and Italians (few may recall that the poets Cavafy and Ungaretti were both born in Alexandria), and others too of those sometimes described in old books as "Levantines" of indeterminate origin. The Egyptian government seized the property of all of these hundreds of thousands of people, accumulated in some cases over the centuries. We can all see how the Egyptian economy started to flourish as soon as those awful "foreigners" were out of the way.

The idea for this synagogue renewal should be obvious: the Egyptian government wanted to pretend that it really was not quite the fomenter of antisemitism (and, not unrelated, anti-Americanism) in its vigilantly monitored media, that it is. It wanted to get some good press, and it wanted as well to do something that might attract tourists. What better idea than to fix up, after centuries of neglect, the synagogue associated with Maimonides, court physician during the Fatimid Dynasty, the one associated with the Kurd Saladin.

Read article in full

For articles on Hosny's bid for UNESCO leadership see also under Egypt/Israel label

No comments: