July 20, 2019

Searching for Egypt's Lost Jews

“Magda Haroun likes to say she will be the last Jew left in Egypt. She sees it as her mission to prepare for that day, which is why she is obsessed with preserving the remnants of Egyptian Jewish culture. Today, many younger Egyptians don’t know that, in the early 20th century, the country was home to some 80,000 Jews, who lived alongside Christians and Muslims in a flourishing multicultural society.

Ms. Haroun was born in 1952, the year when King Farouk was overthrown and life in Egypt changed dramatically. The Jews of Egypt had been departing in waves since 1948, the year of Israel’s creation, when they suddenly found themselves the object of the rage that so many Egyptians felt over the new Jewish state. Still, Farouk was viewed by the Jewish community as a protector. When Colonel Gamal Abdel-Nasser took over, he made it clear that Egypt was only for Arabs; Jews, even whose families had lived there for generations, didn’t qualify.

Nasser’s government introduced new edicts that confiscated or nationalized private businesses. Jewish-owned companies were forced to take on Arab managers and employees. It became hard for Jews to find work, and financial uncertainty helped to fuel their departure, as much as darker fears of persecution.”

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