“Were there Jews living in Egypt?” asked my son while I was watching the TV series “The Jewish Quarter”.
My son and his generation know little, for they grew up thinking that all Jews are Zionists who bring nothing but devastation. They were told that the major strife in Islamic history was propogated by a Jewish hypocrite who played on the minds of the prophet’s companions and made them fight against each other. They were told that President Nasser kicked the Jews out of Egypt because they were fifth-column traitors who gloated when the tripartite invasion took place. Their textbooks often picture Jews with long and pointed noses who were agents of Israel. Even the great singer, Laila Mourad, was unjustly accused of collecting donations for the establishment of the Zionist state.
That is why I expected the series to be criticized. Although we cannot judge based on one or two episodes, the series seems to be quite interesting. It was written by Medhat al-Adl, an enlightened scriptwriter, and directed using Mohamed al-Adl's suspenseful rhythm.
In it, the mental image of the Jews was handled with reason, not with emotion. For we cannot keep stereotyping the Jews as diabolical monsters or legendary dragons that breathe fire wherever they go.
I know that Adl and his team have entered a minefield with this series, but mines and dynamite are also used to blow up mountains and rocks in order to pave roads. The mountains and the rocks are the petrified and fossilized beliefs of Egyptians that have derailed from tolerance and acceptance of the other. Those behaviors must be blown to pieces.
“Yes, there were Jews living in Egypt,” I told my son. “They were Egyptians to the core who loved their country more than the some Muslims who live among us now but do not recognize Egypt as a homeland.”
Let me mention some prominent Jewish figures who lived in Egypt:
Yousef Darwish was a leftist attorney who spent his life defending the rights of workers. He also wore a black suit for a full year to mourn Saad Zaghloul, the great Egyptian leader. Darwish was arrested several times for his cause. Though he had the opportunity to move to France, he chose to live in Egypt and resist the occupation. In the end, he was buried in the soil of the land of his passion.
Renowned singer and actress Leila Mourad was the daughter of Jewish composer Zaki Mourad and the sister of composer Mounir Murad. She was an Egyptian to the core. Nobody believed the rumor about her collecting money for Israel because she was loved by everyone.
Yusuf Aslan Qattawi Pasha was Egypt's Finance Minister from November 1924 to March 1925, then became Transport Minister. In 1923, he was elected a member of the House of Representatives for Kom Ombo. He was a member of the Senate from 1927 to 1936, and in 1920, he co-founded Banque Misr with Talaat Harb.
Daoud Hosni was a composer and an Egyptian to the core. His songs are still sung today.
Nagwa Salem was an actress who influenced Egyptian comedy theater. She collected donations for the Egyptian army after the 1967 defeat.
Salama Elias was a great comedian who refused to leave Egypt, wanting to die and be buried there, which he achieved.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm