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Less than a week later I heard about Andrew’s death while at a dinner at a friend’s apartment, just two metro stops from Tahrir Square. I was the only Jew that night in a mix of Americans and Egyptian gay men, often disproportionately represented in ex-pat circles. Conversation turned to the recent DOMA decision, and one of the gay Egyptians asked, “Wait, do you all know we are gay?” I laughed. It was clear to me from the start. But the incident reminded me once again of a simple fact — everyone has parts of them that at times they feel they cannot share. A degree of alienation is innate to the human condition. I am by no means alone in Egypt.
A few months back I stopped indulging strangers’ questions about my religion. I have my values, I tell them when asked whether I’m Christian or Muslim. “And that’s the most important thing, right?” “Yes, yes,” they always agree. I decided to do so in response to an online campaign started by Egyptians to have religion removed from their identity card. It seemed like a new way to keep an old conversation going.
I wonder what I’ll say, if I’m still around these parts, 10 years from now. For I know I am here in a particular moment of transformation for Egypt. Into what, I cannot speculate. But I know it was not and will not always be this way. There were more tolerant times, and this makes me hopeful that history will repeat these parts again.
Jews once lived openly amongst Egyptian Muslims and Christian Copts in a time before the wars — 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973 — that became defining moments for the modern Egyptian state. In the years that followed Jew became aligned with Israeli and Zionist that for complicated reasons — both real and imagined — become popular to fear, and even hate. Now I find myself, like many of my Egyptian, American, Jewish, Muslim, and Israeli counterparts, trying to make something new of these changing times.
No one story can capture it all, but that’s not a reason not to share them.