Jewish life through an Arab lens

Two film companies – one Egyptian, the other Qatari – are producing a pair of controversial productions that focus on Jewish communities that once lived in the Arab world.

jewsofegypt370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Two film companies – one Egyptian, the other Qatari – are producing a pair of controversial productions that focus on Jewish communities that once lived in the Arab world.
Amir Ramses, an Egyptian filmmaker, has directed a documentary titled Jews of Egypt, which is scheduled for release in cinemas in Cairo early next month. Meanwhile, a firm in Qatar will start filming a multimillion- dollar TV series next month commemorating the slaughter of the Jews in Arabia in the 7th century.
The website of the Egyptian company states that the documentary will show how Jews in Egypt lived in the first half of the 20th century, and will examine how “the Jews of Egypt turn in the eyes of Egyptians from partners in the same country to enemies.”
Today, there are few Jews left in the country.
Ramses spent three years researching and shooting the film, according to an interview he gave to Ahram Online. He said that he was interested in the subject because over the past 10 years he has “been consumed with the quest for defining Egyptian identity.”
In the current political circumstances, where Jews and Christians are viewed negatively by most of the Muslim majority, Ramses wanted to see how society changed from earlier times, when they lived as compatriots rather than enemies.
The movie will focus on the impact of several key events: the creation of Israel in 1948, Egypt’s 1952 revolution, and the 1956 war between Egypt on one side and Israel, Britain and France on the other. It was this conflict that led to the Jews’ exile.
The film includes interviews with various Egyptian Jews, along with an Egyptian sociologist and a Muslim Brotherhood member who took part in the 1947 attack on Jewish shops.
“We are in a very dark place… Egyptian society has become preemptively racist.
They fear and shun ‘the other’ until proven otherwise,” said Ramses in the Ahram interview.
“If the film stirs debate, or stimulates discussion… well, that’s a main reason why I made it.”
In an interview with The Jewish Daily Forward in October last year, Ramses described himself as a secularist and said that he was against the idea of a religious state – whether it be Christian, Muslim or Jewish – and added that he sought to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism.
The Qatari production company is producing a TV series called Khaiber, which “is based on a script written by Yusri Al- Jindy, an Egyptian writer who has previously depicted Israelis and Jews as bloodthirsty savages,” according to an article on the Anti-Defamation League blog. The series is being produced by Doha- based Echo Media Qatar and will include famous Arab actors.
The ADL said that Al Jazeera described the production’s name last week as “the most important feature of the Islamic-Jewish fight. Muslims always raise its name in their rallies against Israel because it constitutes a memory of a harsh defeat for the Jews who lived in the Arabian Peninsula during the time of the prophet [Muhammad].” Slogans referencing the slaughter of the Jews at Khaiber are often shouted at anti-Israeli demonstrations.
The organization is worried that the series will “reinforce the dehumanization of Jews in the Arab world in the same way that previous programs have done.”