The Egyptian minister of antiquities recently announced that President Sisi had allocated over $70 million for restoring and preserving Jewish sites in the country. Last month, Sisi stated that Egypt should build Jewish houses of worship. Currently only a handful of Jews remain in the country, home to one of the oldest diaspora communities; most Egyptian Jews were driven out during the 1950s and 60s amidst severe persecution. Haisam Hassanein comments:
On December 6, Khaled Salah, the editor-in-chief of al-Youm al-Sabaa—a news outlet with close ties to Egypt’s security services—tweeted praise for Hanukkah, calling it a victory for monotheism against “paganism” and advising his audience to read about the Jewish festival’s central historical figure, Judah Maccabee. This coincided with the first public Hanukkah celebration in decades at the Shaar Hashamayim synagogue in Cairo, attended by members of Egypt’s tiny Jewish community alongside an American delegation. . . .
Three motivations best explain the government’s positive discourse [regarding] Jews: [Egypt] sees American Jewish citizens and organizations as a gateway to U.S. policymakers, whom they perceive as overtly sympathetic to Jewish causes; . . . officials seem to believe that investing more money in restoring Jewish heritage will help market the country as a destination for global Jewish tourism; [and] the president’s advisers may be trying to burnish his image as a tolerant leader [worthy of staying in power]. . . .
Yet taking a friendly approach toward Jews and Israel also raises several challenges for Sisi. Historically, Islam has regarded Jews as a protected and tolerated religious minority with some civil and religious rights, but without political status. Hence, most traditional Muslims in Egypt have trouble comprehending or accepting the idea of a Jewish state, Jewish army, or Jewish political community. . . . Even those Egyptians who agree with Sisi’s attitude toward Jews would still have trouble accepting the idea of a neighboring Zionist state. . . .
Washington should continue encouraging Cairo to press Egyptian religious institutions to moderate their discourse [about Jews]. . . . At the same time, Sisi’s latest measures should not give Washington any illusions that he has become a . . . tolerant ruler.