As Egyptian Officials Warm to Judaism, Popular Opinion Remains Hostile to Israel

Dec. 18 2018

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.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Egypt, General Sisi, Israel & Zionism, Mizrahi Jewry, Muslim-Jewish relations

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey