Just in time for the festival of Pesach, Egypt’s culture minister says that it will shoulder the costs of restoring the country’s synagogue’s.
Farouk Hosny says that his ministry views Jewish sites as much a part of Egypt’s culture as Muslim mosques or Coptic churches and the restorations would not require any foreign funding. This marks a turn in attitude for the Egyptian artist and culture minister.
On Sunday, the 12th century Ben Maimon synagogue, named after Maimonides, was rededicated in a ceremony including half a dozen Egyptian Jewish families who fled the country long ago.
Hosny committed his ministry to restoring all 11 synagogues across Egypt, three of which have already undergone renovation. The most visited synagogue is that of Ben Ezra – located in Cairo’s Christian quarter near a number of old churches, was restored some years ago.
“There were some lectures on the Jewish sites in Egypt and the temple. It was nice, emotional and nostalgic,” said Raymond Stock, an American “close” to the Jewish community in Cairo.
The Jewish community of Egypt, which dates back millennia and at its peak in the 1940s numbered around 80,000, is down to several dozen, almost all of them elderly. The remainder were driven out decades ago by mob violence and persecution.
Egypt and Israel fought a war every decade from the 1940s to the 1970s until the 1979 peace treaty was signed. None the less, Egyptian vibrations remain deeply unfriendly to Israel, and anti-Semitic stereotypes still appear in the Egyptian media.
Last September, Hosny blamed a conspiracy “cooked up in New York” by the world’s Jews when he lost a bid from becoming the next head of the U.N.’s agency for culture and education.
During this time, Hosny’s candidacy raised an outcry because of a threat which he had made in the Egyptian parliament in 2008 to personally burn any Israeli book he found in the Alexandria Library.