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Hugh Fitzgerald: In Egypt, the Crazy Criticize the Sane

23

During a show on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Elsharq TV (based in Turkey), Egyptian journalist Emad Albeheery went on a rampage, and a rant, against three people.

First, he was enraged that a prominent journalist, Khaled Salah, the editor-in-chief of al-Youm al-Sabaa — a news outlet with close ties to Egypt’s security services — had tweeted praise for Hanukkah, calling it a victory for monotheism against “paganism” and advising his audience to read about the Jewish festival’s central historical figure, Judah Maccabee. This coincided with the first public Hanukkah celebration in decades, at the Shaar Hashamayim synagogue in Cairo, attended by members of Egypt’s tiny Jewish community alongside an American delegation. Albeheery did not mention the Hanukkah celebration — he must not have known about it, for if he had, all hell would certainly have broken loose on Elsharq TV — but he denounced Khaled Salah’s  suggestion that there could be anything good about Hanukkah. What Salah was praising about the holiday was nothing uniquely Jewish, but rather, the celebration of the very concept of “monotheism,” which is shared by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Albeheery was not impressed; he was having none of it.

A second target for Albeheery’s anger was the poet and translator Fatima Naoot, who on December 10 had written an op-ed in Al Masry Al Youm, after attending that official Hanukkah party in Cairo, about how much Jews had contributed to Egyptian culture, how loyal they had been to Egypt (remaining in the country years after Israel had been created), and how much of a shame it was that they were forcibly expelled from Egypt by Nasser.

There was a furious reaction to her article. Some called her a Zionist, though she has not come out in support of the Jewish state; she still believes there are dispossessed “Palestinians.” But she openly recognizes that the Jews of Egypt had greatly enriched the country’s culture, and she was merely lamenting their departure from the country to which, she insisted, they had always been true. A convinced secularist, she clearly is impressed with Jews, and in her article she describes their support of Egyptian culture, its art, its music, its literature. Albeheery was sent into a fury by her praise of Egyptian Jews, who in his stark view could only be Zionists, and therefore necessarily fifth columnists, disloyal to Egypt. He was not moved by their expulsion, nor by the fact that for many Egyptian Jews, Israel was the only place, in the 1950s, that would take them in.

The third, and most important, target for Albeheery’s anger was Abdelfattah El-Sisi himself, who had done something so terrible that Albeheery could hardly contain himself. What was the unpardonable sin El-Sisi committed? He allotted 72 million dollars to the restoration of Jewish buildings in Egypt. This did not reflect philosemitism, as Albeheery seems to think, but the calculations of realpoliitik.

First, Egyptian policymakers see American Jews and organizations as having great clout in Washington, and by spending money to repair Jewish historical sites, they would be winning favor with them. El-Sisi and his men hope thereby to gain entree to the corridors of power in Washington for themselves.

Second, by restoring Jewish heritage sites, the Egyptian government hopes to better market Egypt to Jewish tourists worldwide. Jews are well represented in global tourism and in the travel business itself. Egypt’s expenditures on Jewish sites might not only encourage Jewish tourism, but make Egypt more visible and desirable as a destination for Jews working in travel and tourism throughout the Western world, to recommend.

Third, by supporting his decision to allot such a large sum ($72 million) to repairs of Jewish sites, El-Sisi’s advisers are likely hoping to burnish his image as a tolerant leader who deserves Western support even if he has to come down hard on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Albeheery could not allow himself to entertain such rational calculations. He could only imagine one thing: in order to do what he did, El-Sisi must have had a Jewish mother, which would mean that he himself was Jewish. For why else would any Egyptian care about Jewish sites in Egypt? Emad Albeheery claims to believe that El-Sisi’s Jewish mother raised him as a Muslim, while all the while he secretly remained a Jew, and managed to get him into the military academy, and then into the Egyptian army, where he rose through the ranks, and eventually, still a secret Jew, he “pulled a coup and took over Egypt.”

Emad Albeheery is a hysteric, but he is hardly alone. His hysteria is shared by many Egyptians, who, whenever anything connected to Jews or to Israel comes up, lose their faculty of reason. They cannot imagine why a Muslim would praise anything connected to Jews (Khaled Salah on Hanukkah), or say something positive about Jews themselves (Fatima Naoot on Egyptian Jews), or want to preserve and restore Jewish sites in Egypt (El-Sisi).

Let the last word on El-Sisi, the Secret Jew, be given not to Emad Albeheery, but to his television host Ahmed Atwan, who turns out to be just as crazy as he is:

“Guys, all his actions are Jewish! Everything he does is for the Zionists!”

And that, in two sentences, is the state of Muslim political discourse today.

The Truth Must be Told

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