Egyptian Jewish Leader Magda Haroun Backs Push Against Islamists

Confident of Return to 'New Era' of Secularism

‘Real Egyptian’: Magda Haroun, the head of Egypt’s tiny Jewish community, admits hearing anti-Semitic comments on the streets of Cairo during the recent military crackdown. But she supports the push against the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
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‘Real Egyptian’: Magda Haroun, the head of Egypt’s tiny Jewish community, admits hearing anti-Semitic comments on the streets of Cairo during the recent military crackdown. But she supports the push against the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

By Ben Sales

Published August 20, 2013.
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On Tuesday, CNN reported that the White House was withholding some military aid to Egypt in protest of the military’s violent crackdown on Morsi supporters. But for Haroun, the army’s assertion of control is a welcome development she sees as “fighting terrorism.”

Haroun says the Jewish community thus far has not experienced any anti-Semitism as a result of the fighting — probably, she says, because it’s so small.

Under Morsi’s rule, however, it was a different story. Soon after taking office, the government voted to end a monthly subsidy of $1,000 to the Jewish community for more than 20 years.

“The way they wanted things to go, it’s a fascist movement,” she said. “I hope we’ll start a new era in Egypt where everyone will be equal regardless of political beliefs. I am very confident in the future.”

Another believer in a more tolerant Egyptian future is Levana Zamir, whose family was expelled from Cairo when she was 12. Now living in Tel Aviv, Zamir remembers an Egypt that strived to be open to the world.

“I’m very proud of Egyptians that they want to go back to the secularism and cosmopolitanism of Egypt,” said Zamir, the president of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Israel. “They need someone like [former President Anwar] Sadat, who wanted to open the Arab world.”

Haroun says that as much as the casual anti-Semitism she hears bothers her, she believes it comes from Egyptians’ unfamiliarity with Judaism.

“It’s all talking, there is no action,” she said. “The talk about anti-Semitism is ignorance. The Egyptians are loving. They love each other. It’s ignorance that pushes them to hate and to burn churches.”

Egypt’s unrest will prevent the community from celebrating Rosh Hashanah together in a few weeks. In past years, the community has hosted festive meals and invited foreign dignitaries and non-Jewish Egyptians.

Due to the curfew now being imposed by the army, however, they cannot meet in the synagogue. A rabbi set to fly in for the holiday has canceled his trip.

Still, the community is providing support to the army’s campaign. When a call went out for Egyptians to donate money to the government during the unrest, the 14 Jewish women in Egypt decided to scrounge together what they could.

“We have no money, but do you agree we should contribute a small amount of money in the name of the Egyptian community?” Haroun recalled asking the women. “You know what they responded? ‘Yes, of course. We are not dead yet.’ “


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