By Rami Mangoubi
Published October 30, 2004
Mr. Ibrahim complains that the US Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act stops at Jews, in a recent Middle East Times article titled "Why stop at Jews?"
Surely he knows that Congress passes laws to specifically protect other groups. The Glass Ceiling Committee helps working women. Affirmative action benefits underrepresented minorities. Mr. Ibrahim wisely does not complain about these laws. Why complain when Congress recognizes that Anti-Semitism is on the rise?
This may be surprising, but Anti-Semitism in Egypt predates the Arab-Jewish conflict. Had Egypt's government passed an Anti-Semitism Awareness Act a century or more ago, Egyptian Jews would still be jointly contributing with other Egyptians to the country today, and would be a bridge of true peace between the Egyptian government and Israel.
As far back as 1860, bureaucrats interpreted citizenship decrees so as to exclude Jews. One decree after another culminated in the Nationality Law of 1929. As a result, 90 percent of the country's 80,000 Jews were denied Egyptian citizenship. While a minority of these, 25 percent or so, already had or succeeded in obtaining citizenship papers from a foreign country, the great majority of Egyptian Jews were left stateless. Many of these Jews lived in Egypt for centuries.
In spite of this racist (some minorities like the Armenians were also denied citizenship) implementation of the Nationality Law, Jews managed to contribute more than their share to Egypt's well-being. They introduced modern industry to Egypt, specifically textile and sugar. They established the suburb of Maadi, and introduced public transportation (The Suarez Company). Daud Hosni, one of Egypt's foremost composers, is Jewish, and his grandchildren now live in Israel. So is Murad Farag, the active passionate Zionist and Egyptian patriot, one of the lawyers who contributed to the writing of Egypt's first constitution.
But ethnocentric nationalists and fundamentalists persisted in seeing Jews as aliens (khawagat). Thanks to them, hatred prevailed. The Nationality Laws were reinforced by employment measures that slowly but surely prevented Jews from earning a living. The measures culminated in the notorious Company Law, passed in 1947, requiring that 90 percent of the employees of any enterprise be Egyptian citizens. Those denied citizenship worked mostly for the private sector, and as a result, after having lived for centuries in Egypt, tens of thousands of Jews were fired en masse.
Everyone needs to earn a living to eat, so even absent Israel and Zionism Jews would still have left because of the two laws. But a year later the Jewish state declared its independence and offered citizenship to these Jews for the first time in their history.
Egypt's economy today still suffers from these measures, as well as from others that Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser had later imposed. Ironically, American aid to Egypt, supported by the same parties that advocated the act Mr. Ibrahim is complaining about, is now repairing the damage. Why not complain about aid that specifically favors Egypt?
Mr. Ibrahim also complains that the Jewish Passover recital promotes unnecessary lasting hatred against all Egyptians. He can be assured that Jewish children know that today's Egyptians are a different nation since they speak a different language and practice totally different religions. Besides, the Koran mentions the Exodus, and no Egyptian I know of has ever complained about the recital.
But Egyptian governments have been brutal to their Jews in modern times as well. In 1948 two massacres in the Jewish Hara (Quarter) in which dozens perished went unpunished. Remaining Jewish families, especially since Nasser's ascent to power, lived fearful in a hostile environment, even though they had non-Jewish friends who were very protective of them. At the start of the Six Day War, only 3,000 Jews remained. Nasser ordered the incarceration of Jewish adult males in the notorious detention camps of Abu Zaabal and Tura. The incarcerated Jews were tortured and humiliated for up to three years, until 1970, when nearly all were deported out of Egypt provided they promised not to return.
While it is true that not all victims of Nasser were Jews, all Jews were his victims. Far from lifting a finger and coming to their help, Mr. Ibrahim and other intellectuals certainly did not complain at that time when Nasser did stop at Jews.
The United Nations has passed more than 100 resolutions regarding Arab refugees, and continues to spend millions every year on them. Yet it has never even once mentioned, nor given a penny to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Why does Mr. Ibrahim not complain that the UN stops at Arab refugees?
In Arab countries and in Iran, Jews for too long had to swallow insult, abuse, incarceration, and even massacres, while keeping their mouths shut. Thanks to America, and to Israel, we are now assertive and do not keep quiet.
Rami Mangoubi was born and raised in Egypt, and now lives in the United States.