Review: Amir Ramses' Doc 'Jews of Egypt' Gives In-Depth Look At Complex History (On VOD Today)
Photo Credit: S & A

Review: Amir Ramses' Doc 'Jews of Egypt' Gives In-Depth Look At Complex History (On VOD Today)


After the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, many Muslims

were viewed with overwhelming suspicion. My father, an African American Muslim

from Louisiana, went to the airport in a Kufi cap and was met with disapproving

glances. Though he was worlds away from the “terrorists” reported on in the

news, “Islam” had become one category. When I watched Amir Ramses’ documentary Jews of Egypt, I thought about my father, and the ways that cultural

and religious specificity can become subsumed by an overwhelming homogenization.

The stories in the film are ones we’ve heard before; where all Muslims become terrorists, and all Japanese become spies and bombers.

In this documentary, Ramses explores the uneven conflation of Judaism with

Zionism and Israel, a sweeping association that disrupted years of coexistence

between Arabs and Jews in Egypt during the first half of the 20th


Though the structure is mostly presentational with back-to-back

talking heads and archival photos, there are gems of information that give

complex insight into intercultural and interreligious unity among Jews and Arabs

in Egypt prior to the formation of Israel and the Zionist movement. However, once

that movement got under way, Egyptian Jews were linked to it, though many had

no real ties.

Egyptian Jewish Interviewees observed multiple holidays,

from Ramadan to Christmas, had friends of various backgrounds, and coexisted in

the country without the need to prove they were Egyptian. This fluidity of

existence is engaging in light of the recent tensions in the region, and shows

how potent and harmful fundamentalism can be in staining all areas of a culture

or religion to the point where regional differences and specificity no longer


The most fascinating content comes in the testimonies of the

Egyptian Jews, and in their unique space in the Jewish Diaspora. Over decades,

Egyptian Jews built foundations of affluence and economic infrastructure in

Egypt, contributing greatly to Egyptian film, music, and art. In the film, many speak of their

expulsion from Egypt, but instead of finding refuge in the newly formed Israel,

they settled in other countries. According to one interviewee: “Israel was a

country for oppressed Jews, which was the opposite of Egyptian Jews.” This one

statement situates their struggle- associated with the violence and ideology of

a “homeland” they didn’t identify with, while being pushed out of the only home

they’d known.

These stories of banishment are underscored by ones of

undeniable patriotism by Egyptian Jews to Egypt, even in the face of

persecution. One interviewee fought for Egypt when the country was attacked by

Israel in 1967, while another important figure, Henri Curiel, founded an

Egyptian communist organization before being pushed out of the country. While

the constant interviews become exhausting, Ramses structures them in ways that

reveal interesting linkages and connections between his subjects.

A documentary like this is important at a time when we are

encouraged to adhere to binaries of gender, religion, and culture on a daily

basis- to take an “either/or” stance on people and human rights issues. There’s

always a gray area, or people, in between the rhetoric, and this documentary does

a nice job of giving them a voice.

Jews of Egypt has been released on VOD today by ArtMattan (its distribution company), available as a 48-hour streaming rental. Click here to head over to VOD partner, ReelHouse.