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Why Are Egypt's 'Liberals' Anti-Semitic?

Samuel Tadros

Cairo

Today Egypt will play host to the 56th Congress of Liberal International (LI), which bills itself as the world federation of liberal and progressive democratic parties. Among the nearly 70 parties represented by LI are Britain’s Liberal Democrats, Germany’s Free Democrats and the Liberal Party of Canada. In the U.S., LI’s Web site cites the National Democratic Institute as a cooperating organization since 1986.

In Cairo, the visiting delegates will be hosted by the Al-Gabha, or Democratic Front Party (DFP). Western liberals (in the old-fashioned sense of that word) are always delighted to discover like-minded people in the Third World, and perhaps nowhere more so than in Arab countries. Yet, at least in Egypt, there’s a dirty little secret about these self-described liberal parties: They are, for the most part, virulently anti-Semitic.

Consider the case of Sekina Fouad, a well-known journalist who also serves as the DFP’s vice president. In an article published earlier this year, Ms. Fouad dismisses any distinction between Jews and Israelis, the reason for which is “the extremity of the doctrine of arrogance, distinctiveness and condescension [the Jews] set out from and seek to achieve by all means, and on top of which blood, killing, terrorizing and frightening.”

She corroborates this argument with an alleged statement by “President” Benjamin Franklin, asking Americans to expel Jews since they are “like locusts, never to get on a green land without leaving it deserted and barren.” Needless to say, Franklin never made any such statement.

Nor is Ms. Fouad some kind of outlier. Take Ayman Nour, who contested the 2005 presidential election under the banner of his own party and was subsequently jailed for nearly four years.

Immediately after his release earlier this year, he attended a celebration organized by opposition groups—including the Muslim Brotherhood—in the northern city of Port Said, commemorating “the first battalion of volunteers from the Egyptian People setting off to fight the Jews in 1948.” The word “Jews” was stressed in bolded black lettering on the otherwise blue and red banner hanging above the conference panel. Yet far from trying to distance himself from that message, Mr. Nour got into the spirit of the conference, talking about “the value of standing up to this enemy, behind which lies all evils, conspiracies and threats that are spawned against Egypt.”

Then there is the case of Egypt’s oldest “liberal” party, Al-Wafd, whose eponymous daily newspaper is one of Egypt’s most active platforms for anti-Semitism. Following President Obama’s conciliatory Cairo speech to the Muslim world, columnist Ahmed Ezz El-Arab faulted Mr. Obama for insisting that the Holocaust was an actual historical event.

These examples are, sadly, just the tip of an iceberg. What makes them all the more remarkable is that, contrary to stereotype, they do not have particularly ancient roots in Egypt. Until Egypt’s Jews were expelled by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and ’60s, Egypt had a millennia-old, thriving Jewish community. As late as the 1930s, Jewish politicians occupied ministerial posts in Egyptian governments and participated in nationalist politics.

But all that changed with the rise of totalitarian and fascist movements in Europe, which found more than their share of imitators in the Arab world. When Egypt’s monarchy was overthrown in 1952 by a military coup, anti-Semitism became an ideological pillar of the new totalitarian dispensation.

Since then, Egypt has evolved, coming to terms (of a sort) with Israel and adopting some market-based economic principles. But anti-Semitism remains the glue holding Egypt’s disparate political forces together. This is especially true of the so-called liberals, who think they can traffic on their anti-Semitism to gain favor in quarters where they would otherwise be suspect.

Westerners, who tend to treat Arabs with a condescension masked as “understanding,” may be quick to dismiss all this as a function of anger at Israeli policies and therefore irrelevant to the development of liberal politics in the Arab world. Yet a liberal movement that winds up espousing the kind of anti-Semitism that would have done the Nazis proud is, quite simply, not liberal.

Messrs. Amr Bargisi and Tadros are senior partners with the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth.

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