Article 3 of the new Egyptian Constitution defines “the canon principles of Egyptian Christians and Jews” as “the main source of legislation for their personal status laws, their religious affairs, and the selection of their spiritual leaders.” This article was newly added to the Egyptian Constitution because the Copts feared that Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution would serve as a basis for discrimination against them. Article 2 states that Islam is the “state religion” and “the principles of Islamic Sharia” are “the main source of legislation.”
Yet, some Egyptian radicals were upset that the new Egyptian Constitution extended this semblance of minority rights to the few Jews who are remaining in Egypt. One of the members of the draft committee, Dr. Ahmed Darraj, even went as far as holding a rally against the inclusion of the word “Jews” in article 3. He asserted that such a mention would give Jews the right to visit the tomb of Rabbi Abuhatzeira and exercise their “orgies” of dancing there. Rabbi Abuhatzeira was a great Moroccan Jewish Kabala scholar who is the author of 12 books. Prior to the revolution, Jews from Israel would often make annual pilgrimages to his grave in Egypt.
Moreover, Darraj claimed that paragraph 3 was a “calamity,” for there are only 87 Jews left in Egypt while the U.S. Constitution does not have any specific mention of Jews, despite the fact that America has more than 6 million Jews. If the constitution would be approved, Darraj charged, it means “recognizing the legitimacy of their presence within the country to practice their rituals and allowing them to claim that the Jews built the pyramids, possibly to claim ownership down the line.” For this reason, he had urged Egyptians not to support the new constitution.
It is very difficult to be Jewish in Egypt these days; it is dangerous to even ask where the local synagogue is located. This year, the Egyptian government denied foreign rabbis permission to enter the country to perform Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services for the Alexandria Jewish community. Given that only four Jewish men and 18 Jewish women live in Alexandria, Egypt presently, these guests were pivotal in order for prayers to take place. This year marked the first time in 2,000 years that Alexandria, a city with an ancient Jewish community dating back to antiquity, lacked a minyan for the Jewish High Holidays.
Also within the past year, Israeli pilgrims were blocked from making their annual pilgrimage to Rabbi Abuhatzeira’s tomb and Islamist extremists threatened the safety of any Israeli who may have sought to try to find a loophole to come. But as if that were not bad enough, anti-Jewish protests with 31 different political groups participating were staged along the pilgrimage route to Rabbi Abuhatzeira’s grave, prompting the Simon Wiesenthal to issue the following statement, “In their worldview, there is no respect for the traditions for Jews, dead or alive.”
The remaining Jews in Egypt are living in fear of their Muslim neighbors. The many violently anti-Semitic demonstrations in the Egyptian street create an atmosphere of intimidation that makes the few Jews left in Egypt feel very uncomfortable. Salin, an elderly Egyptian Jewish woman who is one of the few Jews to remain in Cairo, reported, “Certainly I am afraid. There are fanatic persons in my building.” Salin, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, spends most of her days alone, remembering better times.
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By Rachel Avraham