Egypt’s Sisi: We’ll build synagogues should Jews return

Egypt’s president was speaking to a U.S. delegation involved in honoring the late Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.

By World Israel News staff

If Jews are interested in establishing a Jewish community in Egypt, the government will build synagogues and other communal institutions, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told a U.S. delegation during a two-hour meeting last week, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.

The entourage was comprised of members of the Anwar Sadat Congressional Gold Medal Commission that advocated the granting of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to the slain Egyptian president who made peace with Israel, said the newspaper. The delegation traveled to Egypt to invite Sisi to the ceremony in the fall, when the medal will be given to Sadat’s wife, Jehan.

“President Sisi spoke fondly not only of Egypt’s past vibrant Jewish community but also said that should there be a resurgence of the Jewish community in Egypt, the government will provide every religious necessity required…  that was a very warm embrace,” said Ezra Friedlander, a consultant and lobbyist from New York who spearheaded efforts to have the award granted to Sadat, according to the Post.

This required the passage of a bill that needed to be sponsored by two-thirds of Congress and was signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in December.

“He [Sisi] basically said that should there be a resurgence of the Jewish community, the government will build synagogues and other related services,” said Friedlander.

Sisi’s comments came a couple of weeks after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) officially recognized its small Jewish community, a move seen as an effort to present itself to the West as a country that is tolerant of other religions.

In December, Egypt’s Minister of Archeology Khaled Al-Anany revealed at an interfaith Hanukkah gathering that Sisi had decided to allocate $71 million to renovate Jewish heritage sites and synagogues in the country, according to Ynet. The gathering was said to be the first Hannukah event in Cairo for Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

The Egyptian government has some 500 items which have been collected from synagogues, which will be presented to the general public. Cairo has 13 synagogues, but only three of them are active: the Shaarei Shamayim Synagogue, the Ben Ezra Synagogue in the Abbassia neighborhood and the synagogue of the Karaite community.

Al-Anany said that some of the synagogues would cease to serve as houses of worship and would instead become tourist sites open to the general public, the online Israeli news outlet added.

“There is significance in rehabilitating Jewish synagogues, similar to renovating pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic heritage sites,” the minister said. But he added: “It should be remembered that the Jewish articles and the synagogues belong to the Egyptian government.”

He also said that an anti-smuggling authority operating in the UAE city of Sharjah located hundreds of items from Egyptian synagogues that were destined for Europe, Ynet reported.

According to al-Anany, Jewish, Islamic, and pharaonic artifacts were also smuggled into Italy, “and we are negotiating with the Italian government for their return.”