Jews of Egypt
Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Middle East Documentary Retraces Roots of Mass 1956 Exodus
Did you notice that the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt a few years ago was followed soon thereafter by the torching of churches and the persecution of the Coptic Christians still residing in the country? This development would not be surprising to anyone familiar with the nation’s history, since Jews there had received even worse treatment at the hands of that fundamentalist group starting as far back in 1935.
Brotherhood spokesman Aly Naouito then proclaimed that, “When Jews live somewhere, they spread like cancer, and the economy only belongs to them.” His hateful propaganda campaign went on to accuse all Egyptian Jews of supporting the burgeoning Zionist Movement in neighboring Palestine.
Muslim Brotherhood-inspired anti-Semitism subsequently fomented widespread rage, leading to riots and the razing of synagogues. By 1948, a law had been passed directing Jews to convert to Islam. Those who failed to do so were jailed, lost their homes and businesses, and were pressured to apply for political asylum in Europe and elsewhere.
In October of 1956 the exodus escalated in the wake of a tripartite attack on an Egyptian port by England, France and Israel, ostensibly in response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal. At that juncture, any remaining Jews were stripped of their citizenship, and deported with no passport, nationality or birth certificate.
This harrowing ordeal is recounted in surprising detail via a combination of archival footage and present-day interviews in Jews of Egypt, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Amir Ramses. Most of the movie’s subjects are aging survivors who had been children when banished many decades ago. Yet, some still bemoan the fact that they remain barred from even visiting the once-beloved homeland where they spent their formative years.
The focus of this fascinating film is not merely the religious tensions in Egypt which unfolded over the course of the first half of the 20th Century. The picture devotes just as much attention to the considerable contributions made by Jews to the country’s cultural and industrial development.
A priceless history lesson for anyone interested in understanding the back story explaining how formerly-tolerant Egypt evolved into the religious state it is today.
Excellent (4 stars)
In Arabic and French with subtitles
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: ArtMattan Productions