Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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EGYPT: The trouble beyond the chorus

November 8, 2007 | 10:22 am

By singing at a Cairo synagogue, Gaber el-Beltagui elicited a storm of fury among many fellow Egyptians, who dismissed his move as a sign of normalization with the Jewish state. The opera singer performed his songs at the centenary celebrations of the Shaar Hashamashiyam synagogue, an event organized by the Jewish Community in Egypt.

According to the local press, Egypt has a population of about 100 Jews, mostly women. After decades of fighting, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, which normalized relations between the two neighbors. Yet, it remains a sensitive issue for many Egyptians, who still regard the Jewish state as an enemy and shrug off normalization as a form of treason. To dispel accusations of “normalization,” El-Beltagui contended he did not sing for the Jews. “There is a clear confusion here, because I did not sing for the Jews but I sang for peace … In my song, I called for the denunciation of fanaticism and the proliferation of peace,” El-Betagui told the media

However, those statements did not dissuade his syndicate from freezing his membership. “How can he go sing at a synagogue while they [Israelis] are killing our sons?” asked Mounir El-Wasseemy, the head of the Musical Artists’ Syndicate. “What glory was he seeking? This was very selfish and showed a sense of irresponsibility,” he added.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo