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Egypt registers its Jewish artefacts
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Egypt registers its Jewish artefacts

Saeed Helmy, head of the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Monuments Department at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, told Al-Monitor that three Jewish cemeteries had been registered with the ministry on April 26 in the areas of al-Shatby 1, al-Shabty 2 and Azarita, in Alexandria governorate. 

Speaking by phone to Al-Monitor on May 4, Helmy also said that a synagogue at one of the cemeteries had been documented and registered, which would make it an official historical site under the Antiquities Protection Law no. 117 of 1983 and require the ministry to assume responsibility for it.

Egyptian authorities have begun a process to register and protect Jewish cemeteries and synagogues after decades of neglecting them.

The registrations are the first such moves in regard to Jewish heritage sites following decades of neglect. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, more than half of Egypt's approximately 80,000 Jews left for Israel. Today, only six are thought to remain. According to the Ministry of Antiquities, only 11 synagogues are still intact, 10 in Cairo and one in Alexandria, and they contain thousands of books on the Jewish community in Egypt as well as birth and marriage registers.

Helmy told Al-Monitor that some of the graves in the registered sites are 170 years old. He further said of the cemeteries, “They include communal graveyards for the working-class people without any identification information. They also include marble mausoleums for rich people and Jewish officials and rabbis. These are well organized and include the full names of the buried Jews. The [registered] synagogue contains a number of artefacts and manuscripts that document the Jewish community in the country. 

“These cemeteries are of great significance and cannot be overlooked, because they represent an important era in Egyptian history. They are characterised by their unique, elaborate decorations, as they resemble the small temples built by the Jews in Egypt. We admit that these cemeteries have been neglected for years, even for decades. This step [of documenting them] was long overdue and should have taken place years ago.”

Numerous Egyptian monuments, including Jewish ones, face neglect and attempted thefts. The threat grew after the 2011 revolution and the ensuing security chaos, declining tourism and deteriorating economy. 

 Click here to read the full article in Al Monitor

Monday, May 22, 2017
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