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Nathan Brown, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, spent years studying in the Middle East. A Jew himself, Brown first arrived in Egypt in 1983 as a fellow for the Center for Arabic Study Abroad, a program that offers advanced study in Arabic to American students in Cairo. He has returned often.
For him, Jews aren’t any more at risk than they were when he first set foot in the country, 30 years ago. What has changed, he explains, is the breakdown in political authority and the volatile security situation. “If I were a student, I would be a little worried,” he said.
For those who have recently returned from the region, the recurring reaction to Pochter’s death is, “It could have been me.”
“It was bizarre, because he reminded me so much of myself,” one recent alumnus of CASA said. “A lot of the details of his life were similar to mine: We’re both Jewish, from a similar area, went to a similar type school and wanted to go to an Arab country to promote peace.”
Because he plans on returning to the Middle East, this person asked that his identity remain anonymous. Most people in Egypt do not know that he is Jewish.
As a Jew living in Egypt, he was struck by the stark contrast between general attitudes perpetuated by ignorance and stereotype, and incredible warmth and hospitality at an interpersonal level. Nevertheless, being Jewish, he explained, is not something that you discuss in public.
“I lied about being Jewish all of the time,” he said. “In taxis, cab drivers would often ask if you were Muslim or Christian. From those two options, I just chose Christian. I was never worried about physical violence or anything like that, but there was no reason to tell anyone. There was a possibility of rumor spreading.”
But he was also quick to point out that it would be a mistake to believe that Jews are in a perpetual state of physical danger. The situation is much more complicated than that.