Friday, June 05, 2015

Egypt improves its portrayal of the Jew

Trailer for Haret al-Yahud, the series scheduled for broadcasting over Ramadan in Egypt (with thanks: Lily)

Under President al-Sisi, Egyptian media appears to have undergone a change for the better in its portrayal of Jews. Although the Jews in this Ramadan drama are still caricatures, the message is that they are loyal Egyptians living in the Jewish quarter of an Arab city. The Zionist (depicted with a kippa as another religious fundamentalist)  and the Islamist are the bad guys. The Times of Israel reports:

The 2012 series “Naji Atallah’s Team,” starring veteran actor Adel Imam, depicted an Egyptian group’s attempt to rob a bank in deeply racist Israel. The 2002 historic show “Knight Without a Horse,” located in 1932 Egypt and based on the antisemitic canard “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” almost caused Israel to withdraw its ambassador from Cairo and sparked condemnation also from the US State Department. 

But a new drama about the Jews of Egypt scheduled to air this Ramadan, come June 18, promises to be significantly different.

The plot of “Haret al-Yahood,” or The Jewish Quarter, unfolds in Cairo between two landmark events in 20th century Egyptian history: the 1952 Revolution — which replaced the ruling monarchy with the militaristic Free Officers Movement led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser — and the 1956 Suez Crisis, known in Israel as the Kadesh Operation and in Egypt as the Tripartite Aggression.

It depicts a love story between Ali, an Egyptian army officer played by Iyad Nassar, and Laila, a young Jewish woman, played by Mona Shalabi. As one might expect, the romance is marred by the rising wave of Egyptian nationalism and the social tensions brought about by the creation of Israel.

“We have lived our entire lives in the heart of Cairo and never experienced any racism,” says an older female character in the series’ trailer, as a Jewish family sits around its candlelit table. “I’m a brother to the Muslim, my religion tells me so,” says one man, wearing an Ottoman fez. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ideological divide, a young Zionist Egyptian bursts out in anger when his father refers to nascent Israel as “Palestine.”

Historical dramas are rarely just about the past, obviously. Madhat al-Adl, the series’ writer, said he wished to depict a cosmopolitan Egypt in which “all religions and languages coexist.”

“When such coexistence happened, Egypt was great,” Adl told Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm in February.

“The series doesn’t deal only with Jews, but with an Egyptian neighborhood known as Jewish Quarter, where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together. We never said ‘this is a Christian, or a Muslim or a Jew'; they were all Egyptians. Therefore, we must not call Jews anything but Egyptians.”

Reflecting Egyptian thinking currently in vogue, the great villain in Jewish Quarter — aside from Zionism — is the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood. Its Egyptian founder, Hassan al-Banna, who was assassinated in 1949, is depicted quoting a Quranic verse calling on Muslims to strike at the infidels “wherever they are found.”

 Algemeinerreports on another positive sign - the publication of Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon's translation of the Torah. Once again Rabbi Sa'adia is seen as a loyal Egyptian :

Egypt’s National Center for Translation has just released an Arabic translation of the Torah.

To be precise, they converted Rav Saadia Gaon’s 10th century translation of the Torah to Judeo-Arabic into Arabic itself. (Judeo-Arabic is mostly Arabic with Hebrew letters.)
The Egyptian scholars who published the book emphasize that R’ Saadia was born in Egypt (in Fayoum, identified by R’ Saadia himself as the Biblical Pitom), and that his philosophy and translations were heavily influenced by Islam. They even claim that he borrows Quranic texts in some of his translations to Arabic.
They don’t emphasize that R’ Saadia moved to Eretz Yisrael when he was in his teens to study in Tiberias. Yes, he was a Zionist! (He ended up heading a major academy in Babylonia.)

Read article in full

1 comment:

Selina said...

Bit too late now