On “Angry Friday” — January 28 — just as the demonstrations that rocked Egypt turned violent, I tried to make my way home. After navigating side streets to avoid the suffocating clouds of tear gas that riot police shot into the sky with reckless abandon, I arrived at a key bridge over the Nile, only to find that protesters had blocked it with burning tires.
The once unthinkable is happening. As Americans ponder a post-Mubarak Egypt, they are asking the most natural question: What does this mean for us strategically? The Egyptian demonstrators are keenly aware of American concerns. They know that the United States is the most influential power player in the region, and that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has survived for 30 years with generous American patronage — about $1.5 billion annually.
In his innermost thoughts, Ronald Reagan was genuinely friendly toward American Jews. As the recent publications of other former presidents’ private writings and rantings have shown, this is no small thing. The 2003 release of Harry Truman’s diary quoted the 33rd president as writing, “The Jews, I find, are very, very selfish.” Last year, Jimmy Carter was quoted as telling senior campaign aides prior to the 1980 elections, “If I get back in, I’m going to [expletive] the Jews.” Meanwhile, every newly released Richard Nixon tape seems to carry another antisemitic slur, with the most recent, released in 2002, containing a conversation in which Nixon laments Jewish power with the Rev. Billy Graham.
Masturbation, oral sex and foreplay are strictly taboo discussion topics in conservative Egyptian society. Yet with impressive comfort, Heba Kotb, dubbed Egypt’s “Dr. Ruth,” covers these issues in depth on her weekly satellite television program, “The Big Talk.” Kotb’s level of comfort sharply declines, however, when asked about her education: Kotb, 39, received a degree in clinical sexology from Maimonides University, a Jewish-affiliated institution in Florida.
A t first glance — given the recent history of Jews in Arab lands — the statistics for Morocco’s Jewish community are unsurprising, even if startling. A population of roughly 265,000 in 1948 has dwindled to merely 5,000, as most Moroccan Jews have immigrated to Israel, Europe and North America. Yet Morocco, almost an entire continent removed from the Arab-Israeli conflict and Gulf-based radicalism, maintains a decidedly different outlook toward Jews when compared to most other Arab states. Copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” prominent staples of any newsstand in Beirut or Amman, are not noticeably available on the streets of Rabat or Casablanca. Old Jewish quarters, virtually forgotten and replaced in Alexandria and Damascus, have been meticulously preserved in Marrakech and Fez. And synagogues — heavily guarded in Egypt, even when not in use — stand without patrols in all of Morocco’s major cities. Jewish schools and synagogues in Morocco receive government subsidies, while King Mohammed VI retains the counsel of a Jewish senior adviser — a truly remarkable gesture in this part of the world.
At its height, the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt totaled 80,000 individuals, men and women of diverse backgrounds and nationalities: In addition to Arab Jews, there were also Jews of British, French, Greek and Italian origin. In this fertile environment, the Eliyahu Ha-Nabi Synagogue on al-Nabi Street thrived, housing the headquarters for the Chief Rabbinate of Alexandria and operating a Jewish day school and nursing home.