Cairo: A call by a senior Islamist official for Egyptians Jews to return home from Israel has drawn sharp criticism from the country’s liberals and Islamists alike.
Essam Al Erian, an aide to President Mohammad Mursi and the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, has argued that the Jews’ repatriation would help end the decades-old Palestinian problem. Al Erian renewed his suggestion on Wednesday, saying it is “an attempt to think out of the box”.
“The number of Egyptian Jews in Israel does not exceed 5,000. Besides, my call is not limited to the Egyptian Jews,” he said. “It is a call for all Jews to leave Israel and go back to their home countries, thus making way for Palestinian refugees to go back to Palestine.”
The clarification has not mitigated the attack on Al Erian. Mursi’s spokesman said the remarks were a personal view.
“This call poses major risks to Egypt as it implies an admission by a state official that the Jews have property in Egypt and should regain it,” said Waheed Abdul Majid, a member of the liberal minded opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front. “Al Erian knows well that all Jews had sold their property in Egypt before leaving it for Israel. But his call will be a pretext for Israel to demand reparations from Egypt,” added Abdul Majid.
He urged the Egyptian government instead to demand compensation from Israel for the oil it exploited during its six-year occupation of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula from 1967.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. However, the two countries’ relations soured after a popular revolt in Egypt deposed Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.
Most of Egypt’s Jews left in the era of the nationalist leader Jamal Abdul Nasser who died in 1970. There is no official figure about how many Jews are still living in Egypt, although unconfirmed reports put their number at less than 100, compared to around 90,000 in 1948 when Israel was created.
“Al Erian’s suggestion is most probably meant to reverse a growing campaign in the West against the emergence of theological governments in the [Arab] region,” wrote Emad Eddin Hussain in the independent newspaper Al Shorouk. “He also wanted to tell the West that the Muslim Brotherhood does not deny the Holocaust and that the group [the Brotherhood] accepts the Jews’ return and offering them compensation. But what Al Erian did not realise is that the Jews will use his proposal to renew their claim for compensation.”
Incensed by Al Erian’s suggestion, the protest group, the Revolution Salvation Alliance, has asked the Egyptian authorities to strip the official of his citizenship. His Brotherhood fellows have, meanwhile, dissociated themselves from his contentious proposal.
“Al Erian’s suggestion is just a personal view that does not reflect the Brotherhood’s opinion,” said Ahmad Fahmi, a senior official in the ruling group. “What he said is inapplicable, given that no one forced the Egyptian Jews to leave,” added Fahmi, who is also the head of the upper house of parliament. “They also fought against Egypt in its three wars with Israel. So, no one can accept them being Egyptian citizens.”