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EGYPT: What's behind Jewish synagogue restoration?

August 21, 2009 | 11:58 am

Synagogue Is historical preservation or modern day cultural politics behind the restoration of the Maimonides synagogue in Cairo's ancient Jewish quarter?  

Although most Egyptians are against efforts linking their country to Jewish or Israeli heritage, the move has been interpreted as an attempt by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni to win international recognition ahead of his controversial bid to become head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Hosni's bid to become the next UNESCO director-general was set back in 2008 when he said that he'd personally burn Hebrew books if he found any in Egyptian libraries. Since then, it is been reported that the ministry has been trying to make amends for Hosni's comments. It recently has begun allowing the translation of books written by Jewish and Israeli authors, a move that dismayed many Egyptians.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's head of antiquities, insisted that restoration work was a response to recent claims that Egypt is not protecting Jewish monuments within its territory -- another allegation that didn't bode well for Hosni

"There have been some pictures published in newspapers and on Internet sites implying that Egypt has neglected its duties towards Jewish temples and this is not true," Hawass told reporters at the Musa ibn Maymun (Maimonides) synagogue. "Egypt deals with the Jewish synagogues and antiquities as part of its own.

"These pictures are aimed at tarnishing the image of Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, but the restoration of the temple began before Egypt announced the minister's candidacy for the UNESCO post," he added.

The Maimonides synagogue was named after Jewish philosopher and physician Musa ibn Maymun, who was buried under the site before his remains were moved to Tiberias, Israel.

Ibn Maymun was born in Spain. He fled from persecution there and arrived in Egypt, where he died in 1204.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: The Maimonides synagogue. Credit: Ben Curtis / Associated Press

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