No Reason To Fear Antisemitism

In mid 1939, Egyptian Jews were terrorized by a series of bombs placed in Jewish homes and synagogues, as well as a well felt antisemitic wave. It was assumed then, mostly correctly, it was the result of the arrival of Nazi propaganda to the Arab world. Misr Al-Fatah, a paramilitary ultra-nationalist group, effectively modeled itself on the National Socialist party of Germany. The Muslim Brotherhood was their rival group and they too were engaging in antisemitic propaganda. Fears started to spread in the Jewish community of a major antisemitic wave, however, Egyptian Jewish elites and intelligentsia assured them there was nothing to fear and Egypt was immune to antisemitism.

Below is an article published in 1939 in a Franco-Egyptian newspaper discussing the issue. Needless to say, only three decades after the publishing of this article, and after more bombings, a state-sponsored campaign of mass arrests, expulsions, and confiscations, the number of Jews in Egypt went down from 70,000-80,000 to only a few hundred. Today, there are none but four elderly Jewish women left in the country.

ANTI-JEWISH AGITATION: FOUR BOMBS IN TWO WEEKS*

L.T.J.I., “AGITATION ANTI-JUIVE: QUATRE BOMBES EN DEUX SEMAINES,” LA TRIBUNE JUIVE (JULY 26, 1939)

It is no longer possible to pass over in silence or to take lightly the anti-Jewish agitation which is taking place in Egypt. In the space of two weeks, four bombs have been left in front of synagogues and Jewish hones: one in Cairo another in Mansourah, the third in al-Mahalla, and the fourth in Asyut.

During this time, four newspapers (one in French and three in Arabic), as well as a party called “The Youth Party” are openly conducting a violent anti-Jewish propaganda campaign on Egyptian soil.

As a matter of fact, the results of this mischievous action are rather meager, at least up till now. The Egyptian, with his characteristic good sense, detects all that is false and artificial in the frenzied agitation carried on by a few unconscionable and unscrupulous individuals who are seeking the limelight or to make their living in this fashion for want of more honest means.

People should not, therefore, become unduly alarmed. They represent in all half a percent of the total population of the country (70,000 out of 14 million). Their role in the press is almost nil in contrast to the Syrians, who occupy the primary place. In commerce, they do not come near the position of the Greeks, the English, and the Italians. In banking, they are surpassed by the French. Even in industry, they come, if our information is correct, after the Egyptians.

None of the reasons that allowed the spread of antisemitism in other countries come together here. Another point that is important to raise: The Jews do not constitute here the only element which is differentiated from the majority of inhabitants of the country. In Germany, Italy, Poland, and Hungary, there are more or less only Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, and Jews. Such is not the case in Egypt, a cosmopolitan country par excellence, where the Copts, the Syrians, and even the Greeks and Italians are ever so much more numerous than the Jews.

Furthermore, it would be a great misunderstanding to think that those who are conducting this anti-Jewish agitation really have the Jews as the targets. The Jews, in the end are only a pretext for reaching a much more important goal. This goal will be understood more easily when one sees who is hiding behind these agitators, who, in fact, are simply acting as puppets with others skillfully pulling the strings.

Nothing could be simpler than to know the true authors of this pernicious agitation. It suffices to look first of all at the method in order to recognize immediately the mark of origin. The method is the lie and the calumny.

A certain Shaykh (Muslim preacher) has published a brochure on the Jews which was reproduced with the sort of haste one might imagine for all these anti-Jewish sheets. This brochure, naturally, accuses the Jews of all the misdeeds on earth, and among other things, of controlling all the cinemas and dancing establishments (what misdeeds!) of the country. One cabaret is even mentioned by name-the Kit Kat of Cairo. However, if the Jews run nightclubs, just as they run the commercial establishments, it is thanks to their work, their spirit of initiative, and their money. As for the Kit Kat, there is no one who does not know that it belongs to a Greek.

We have before us examples of certain anti-Jewish canards which have appeared for some time in Egypt. Strangely enough, the arguments curiously resemble one another. Even stranger still, these arguments bear a curious resemblance to those developed in Germany in the Hitlerian Sturmer and Weltdienst, as well as those published in Italy in the Fascist Tevere and Difensa della Razza.

Draw your own conclusion. One can see where these individuals got their inspiration. One sees as well where they get their orders. Who profits by this maladroit agitation?

Certainly not Egypt. Egypt in the midst of the process of development needs the union and concord of all its inhabitants. And these sad specimens sow hatred and disunion.

Not the Arab and Islamic countries. They have no greater enemy than the Nazis and the Fascists who have destroyed Abyssinia, enslaved Libya, annexed Albania, and harbor the blackest design for the countries of the Near East, notably, against Egypt. These gentlemen do not make a peep about the aggression and ambition of the Hitler-Fascists, but they make a great hue and cry when an unfortunate refugee tries to enter Palestine.

We repeat: WE DO NOT FEAR ANTISEMITISM IN EGYPT. For the reasons we have outlined above, we believe moreover THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CREATE A SPECIFICALLY ANTI-JEWISH MOVEMENT IN THIS COUNTRY.

But by sowing the wind, one ends up by reaping the whirlwind. This whirlwind would be a general xenophobia touching everyone, bringing discord, disunity, and hatred, of which Egypt would be the greatest victim. The tactic of sowing hatred and discord in indeed pursed by the Hitlerian-Fascists in all the democratic countries to better divide and weaken them.

We are convinced that every Egyptian, every sincere friend of Egypt, envisages such an eventuality with horror. Those who at this moment hold the government of the country in their hands and who we know to be conscientious and proven patriots certainly desires this less than anyone else. Therefore, let them act, and let them act speedily.

*Stillman, Norman, Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times P. 393

About the Author
Hussein Aboubakr was born in 1989 to an Arab Muslim family in Cairo, Egypt. Hussein studied Jewish and Middle Eastern history and Hebrew literature at the Faculty of Arts and Oriental Studies Department at Cairo University. Persecuted by state police for his research at the Israeli Academic Center of Cairo, Hussein participated in the Egyptian revolution until he was forced to depart Egypt as a political refugee. He now lives in the United States. He is a member of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa an organization based in San Francisco.
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