On Oct. 15, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that killed over 1,400 Israelis.
Perhaps to stave off the issue of antisemitism, Sisi stated, “Mr. Secretary, you spoke about the crisis and you spoke as a Jewish person, and let me tell you that I am an Egyptian citizen, and I was born and brought up in a neighborhood where we had Jewish neighbors. And Jews who used to live here in Egypt never suffered from oppression and persecution.”
Mr. President, my name is Edmond Haddad. I was born in Cairo four years before you were born. I regret to say that I know personally that your claims are untrue.
I no longer live in Egypt, and I am not alone. It wasn’t just my family that was forced to leave. Over 1.3 million Jews have left the Arab and Muslim countries of the Middle East since 1947. Today, there are only 25,000 Jews living in Arab nations.
In 1948, there were more than 1.35 million Jews throughout the Middle East and 1.37 million Muslims in what was called British Mandatory Palestine. In the same territory today, which comprises Israel, Gaza, Judea, and Samaria, there are 7.9 million Muslims. In other words, the Jews were almost completely ethnically cleansed from Arab and Muslim nations while the Palestinian Arabs increased their population by 574%.
Let me tell you about oppression and persecution: In 1947, my uncle went to prison for 15 months for purchasing a train ticket to Tel Aviv. In 1948, my father broke his arm trying to prevent the burning of his factory. He was beaten in 1950 because of his religion.
In May of 1956, Jews employed by Egyptian public institutions were sent on vacation, then dismissed. When he announced the blockade of Akaba, then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser dared the “Jews” to come—not Zionists or Israelis, but Jews. On Nov. 23, 1956, Egypt’s Minister of Religious Affairs declared, “All Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state.” Imams read this statement in mosques across Egypt.
In 1962, I went to the bank with my mother to open a savings account. After the teller saw on my identification card that I was Jewish, he threw the money I gave him back at me and told me that Jews could not have savings accounts in Egypt. Muslim teachers in my school often told us that Jews were not wanted in Egypt, so we’d better not talk in class.
In 1967, all Jewish homes and property were confiscated. All male Jews were put in detention camps for anywhere from six months to three years. Just before Nasser died, all the prisoners were deported and their families expelled.
I summarize two eyewitness accounts from my cousin Gamliel and Ibrahim Farhi, who were both imprisoned in Egyptian detention centers: The police arrested all Jewish males over the age of 18. Their businesses, cars, furniture and possessions were confiscated or auctioned off. The prisoners were taken to Abu Zaabal prison. “No one was called by their name there,” I was told. There were no watches, no shoes and only women’s names for the prisoners. The prisoners were forced to undress and run around the yard while the guards beat them. Their heads were shaved. Most were raped. They were fed white cheese full of worms and bread full of bugs. For six months, their families didn’t know if their loved ones were dead or alive. This torture continued day and night. Nasser released them only in June 1970.
At the time, Egyptian Jews were of mixed education, wealth, religious observance and political beliefs. The wealthier members of the community founded banks, owned department stores and traveled freely abroad because they could afford the bribes required. Most Jews were stateless, because their applications for Egyptian citizenship were almost always denied.
Many Jews converted to Christianity or Islam and tried to assimilate. Jews spoke several languages, but not Hebrew. They were often ambivalent about the State of Israel. Some spoke against Israel even after they were expelled from Egypt. Most of the middle-class and wealthy Jews immigrated to the U.S., Brazil, Argentina and France. Most of the poor Jews immigrated to Israel.
In Egypt, Jews were continually harassed, insulted and mocked. The secret police would knock on their doors in the middle of the night and ask them when they were leaving Egypt. Had they bought their tickets? They had better leave within a week or else. Over 35,000 Jews left or were expelled after the 1956 war. By 1967, there were about 2,000 Jews left in Egypt. Today, there are only two Jews in the entire country.
President Sisi, although you and some of leaders of the Egyptian military have close relations with Israel, most Egyptians continue to hate Israel and Jews. In 2016, a member of the Egyptian group Tawfik Okasha was physically attacked and expelled because he invited an Israeli diplomat to his home for dinner. A 2023 survey of Arabs living in countries that have signed peace agreements with Israel found that 84% don’t support the agreements.
President Sisi, how can you honestly say that Jews were not targeted in Egypt or other Arab and Muslim countries? While living in Egypt, I was ashamed of being Jewish. I was a slave in Egypt and did not realize I was free after we left. I missed my home, school and “comfortable” life. It took years for me to realize that my life changed for the better because I could now live as a Jew and be proud of my heritage.
I find it difficult to believe that you, President Sisi, are unaware of what happened in your country and elsewhere in the Muslim world. Such hatred continues today. Jews are still ridiculed and defamed in Arab newspapers, TV shows and movies, and by most of the Muslim population. Textbooks full of Jew-hatred are still used in Egyptian public schools.
You, President Sisi, more than anyone, should understand and condemn Hamas. When you deposed former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, you imprisoned all the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the precursor of Hamas. You understood how dangerous they were to Egypt. You of all people should be able to condemn Hamas for what they have done. They don’t represent the Palestinians, in the same way the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t represent the Egyptians.
It’s time for you to say so.