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September 5, 2016 3:01 pm

Report: Egyptian Antiquities Ministry Official Calls on World to Help Fund Restoration, Preservation of Country’s Ancient Jewish Artifacts

avatar by Ruthie Blum

The interior of Cairo's Ben Ezra Synagogue. Photo: Wikipedia.

The interior of Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue. Photo: Wikipedia.

The head of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities Monuments Department is calling on the world to help fund the restoration and preservation of ancient Jewish artifacts, the Mideast news site Al Monitor reported on Sunday.

According to the report, Saeed Helmy, who is in charge of the country’s Islamic, Coptic Christian and Jewish monuments, told the outlet last month that this project has been difficult to fund, due to his country’s dire economic straits.

Helmy told Al Monitor that Jewish antiquities — which Egypt has begun registering, to protect them from theft and neglect — “capture the attention of people all around the world.”

There are 11 synagogues in Egypt, 10 in Cairo and one in Alexandria, according to the report, which contain thousands of documents pertaining to the now nearly non-existent Jewish community in the country (only six individuals remain), including birth and marriage records.

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When tourism was still thriving, prior to the outbreak of the “Arab Spring” in late 2011, these synagogues were frequently visited by foreigners, particularly Old Cairo’s Ben Ezra, which houses thousands of ancient Jewish books — all in need of care.

In addition, the report said, the Ashkenazi synagogue in Ataba, built in 1887, requires serious renovation.

The head of Egypt’s minuscule Jewish community reportedly appealed to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in March to help with the costly task of repairing and restoring the ancient buildings and their contents. In June, the Ministry of Antiquities announced that it was forming a special committee to register all Jewish antiquities.

Helmy called the work done thus far on Jewish sites — such as the repair of the Maimonides synagogue in downtown Cairo, to the tune of nearly $1 million — “the best proof that the Ministry of Antiquities cares about the [country’s] Jewish heritage.”

Egypt’s relationship to its Jews began to sour seriously with the rise of Nazi Germany, and the close ties that Hitler forged with Arab powers. The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, preceding the War of Independence in which Egypt was a combatant, added another nail to the coffin.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, Egyptian Jews were expelled or imprisoned. The country’s last chief rabbi left Egypt in 1972.

The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, signed between the late President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978, was a mutual agreement to the cessation of war, but it was a cold peace, with much of the Egyptian public holding antisemitic views.

As The Algemeiner reported last month, however, Egypt-Israel ties have been strengthening in the three years since the military coup that ousted former President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In an op-ed published in July, Cairo-based political analyst Mohamed Soliman said that this flourishing relationship — which sprouted in the immediate aftermath of the July 2013 toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government — has been a two-way street.

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