In 1948, there were about 76,000 Jews in Egypt. Today, approximately 40 Jews live in Egypt, mostly elderly women in Cairo and Alexandria.
“One day, not far away, there will be no Egyptian Jew living in this country, but there will be a legacy of Egyptian Jews who were like other people, good and bad, rich and poor, observant and secular – but they were there; and their cemeteries and synagogues – like their memoires and pictures – will still be there,” Magda Haroun said in an interview with Ahram Online.
Magda Haroun was chosen unanimously in April to be the new president of The Egyptian Jewish Community Council following the passing of its previous leader, Carmen Weinstein, who guided the community for more than 20 years. Part of her popularity is that, at 60, she is the youngest in a dwindling Jewish community.
Haroun’s father, Shehata, was known for being staunchly anti-Zionist and loyal to his country. In 1954, he refused to leave Egypt to get leukemia treatments for his 4-year old daughter after being informed he would be given a No-Return stamp on his passport. His daughter died soon after.
The Jewish community has not fared much better since then, including under Mohamed Morsi’s tenure. This past year, the Ministry of Social Affairs cancelled a $13,000 grant to the Jewish community without notifying its leadership. The grant was vital to the remaining Jewish community, which has practically no other source of income.
“Many people do not understand that I belong to my country regardless of my religion. Zionism is a racist movement that discriminates between people on the basis of religion. They do not understand that I am loyal to my country, not Israel. It was our father that nurtured those feelings of fierce loyalty in us,” Haroun said in a recent interview with Egypt Independent.
”The failure to draw a distinction between Judaism as a religion and the Israeli state is the result of ignorance,” she continued. “Just like not every Muslim is a member of al-Qaida, not every Jew is an Israeli.”
Despite the troubles Haroun and the community have faced, they have no intention of leaving Egypt.
“I am loyal to my country, not Israel,” Haroun told Egypt Independent. “When someone asks why we have not left the country, I feel provoked. Why would we leave the country and emigrate? And where would we go? Why do some people think that all the Jews should immigrate to Israel? Do all Muslim immigrate to Saudi Arabia?”