Cairo's Jewish Community Stages Palace Revolt

Bassatine News

In view of recent developments, Bassatine News felt it necessary to produce this special issue to update you with the events of Cairo’s Jewish community during the week August 19-24, 1996. Since it has been partly reported in The Egyptian Gazette we insert the story as it appeared. (see box). The original statutes governing the communal council are based on those of Paris dated 1789.

According to a circular letter signed by Carmen Weinstein dated Cairo, August 24, 1996, the new board of the Jewish community of Cairo is as follows:


Mrs. Esther Weinstein President

Mr. Jacques Mosseri Vice Pres

Mr. Robert Nahman Teasurer / Secretary

Mrs. Carmen Weinstein, Member & Public Relations

Dr. Victor Bromberg Member

Mr. Samy Maleh Member

Mrs. Sarine Bromberg Member

Mrs. Jeanette Mosseri Member

Mrs. Rosette Usilly Member

The previous president, Mr. Emile Rousseau, had been in office for the last eight years having replaced Mr. Youssef Dana. Bassatine News takes this opportunity to thank Mr. Rousseau and all the members of the previous board for their efforts and valuable contributions past and present.

VISITS On August 15, Mr. Robert Ritter, National Executive Director of the Ottawa-based CIC, and Mr. Ben Rowswell of the Canadian Embassy in Cairo, visited Bassatine and toured several of its vaults. Mr. Ritter discussed with Carmen Weinstein venues on how to interest the different Jewish communities in Canada of the plight of Bassatine.

OBITUARY We sadly announce the death of Mr. Robert Jafi who passed away on August 19, 1996, only a few hours after he actively participated in the election of the new board.


By; Samir Raafat

It is somehow reminiscent of a constitutional coup. The tiny Jewish community, fed up with its present command, decided it was high time for change. At an impromptu meeting of the board held early this week, at the Adly Street synagogue " Shaar Hashamaiim ", the community elders did the unthinkable. They passed a resolution allowing woman on the local board of directors for the first time in the community’s history, that goes back 1,000 years and more. Not only that, but they elected Mrs. Esther Weinstein as their new president. Sweeping changes was the order of the day, all of which gained unanimous approval at the general assembly meeting convened the following morning.

The architect of this reform is conservationist-playwright Carmen Weinstein daughter of the newly elected president and long regarded as a dissident within the community. The Weinstein’s, along with the approximately 100 other Egyptian Jews of Cairo, are all that remains from those who chose not to join their brethren who moved to Europe and the Americas or, invariably Israel in the late 1960’s.

Rumblings and warning signs of unrest within the community started several years ago when it was asserted that some of its former presidents had a penchant for running the show single-handed as though it was a private foundation. Muffled accusations of asset-stripping were compounded with cries that artifacts and other Judaica rarities belonging to the abandoned synagogues were "disposed of" without prior consultation with the board. Accountability seemed altogether absent. Crucial resolutions were taken without the knowledge of those supposedly in the know.

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All this will now change, says Carmen Weinstein, who, besides her responsibilities as PR of the community, is the indefatigable curator of the 1,000 year old Jewish cemetery in Bassatine. The board needed new blood and a strong infusion of vigor. And since the gender gap within the community is 2:1 favoring women, it was only natural that they should have a say in its affairs.

The once thriving Jewish community of Egypt had several pashas and beys for its presidents. Early this century, Cairo’s Sephardi board was headed by Moise de Cattaui Pasha whose roots in Egypt went back several hundred years. At one point he was ennobled by the Austrian emperor Franz-Jozef for services rendered to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Another president was his nephew, Senator Youssef Aslan Cattaui Pasha, the Egyptian minister of finance in Ahmed Ziwar Pasha’s government of 1924.

In 1946, communal leadership slipped out of Cattaui hands and was taken over by Salvatore Cicurel Bey, Egypt’s fencing champion at the 1928 Olympic games. He was the owner and chief executive of the then-great department store chain that still bears his name today. After Cicurel’s resignation in the mid-fifties, the communal presidency was headed successively by Maitre Romano, Felix Isckaki and Youssef Dana. The last president of the community was Mr. Emile Rousseau, a former employee of the Banque Belge et Internationale en Egypte. Presently summering overseas, he is oblivious to what took place back at the ranch. A palace coup was the last thing he expected of his previously docile flock.

As for the new Madam President, she is the proprietor of Weinstein Printers & Stationery on Cherif Pasha Street. Visit its antiquated back-room and you will quickly realize that even though it houses one of Cairo’s oldest surviving print-shops, it still bustles with animation, just like the dauntless mother and daughter team that run it.


Regards from Samir W. Raafat in Maadi, Egypt