As providence would have it, Amir Ramses found my blog, Women's Lens, and as I contribute occasionally to a Facebook Group called "Egyptian Jews", he reached out to me to let me know he had been looking for me. What I did not realize is that Amir was going to be in New York for a few days in mid-March, during which time his film was supposed to have opened in cinemas across Egypt. On March 12, 2013, Egyptian National Security issued a ban on the film, despite the fact that it had been twice approved, once for national distribution back in September of 2012, and another for export licensing.
It was during this commotion that I learned of Amir's presence in New York. Naturally, I did all that I knew to find him, and find him I did. Since he was leaving for Egypt on the 14th of March, we arranged to meet mid-afternoon that day. He mentioned to me that he had been swamped by reporters (rightfully so), and he was absolutely outraged after he had heard about the ban.
Naturally, when he arrived, and we finally sat down to face each other, it was impossible not to discuss the current situation in Egypt, that which followed the fall of Mubarak. Amir's English is charmingly accented with French, and I did sense that he would be more comfortable speaking in French, however, the greater portion of the conversation was in English.
It is uncanny that when two people who have lived in the same country, but do not know each other at all, they can immediately bond over their country of origin.
We needed to talk about the film, - we also talked about my desired project of going to Egypt and meeting with certain people to talk about the loss of the Egyptian Jewish community. I explained to him that I had received some support, mostly from intellectuals, but the majority of Jewish people I knew were not keen on the idea. He was not surprised at all.
AK: why this film? why now? why not 5 years ago, or 5 years from now?
AR: I have been working on this film since 2000...when I became curious about what had happened to the Jews of Egypt. Nasser, the expulsion of the Jews, the witch hunt for communists, the downward spiral of the country..
AK: What else could Nasser have done? He had to respond to the withdrawal of support from the British and the US; the nationalization of the Suez Canal was seen as a formidable coup against the West by other Arab countries. The Palestinians had great admiration for this man. After the establishment of the state of Israel, he seemed to be the only one who could stand up to the West.
AR: There is something wrong in Egyptian society. A lot of ignorance, and a need for vengeance. Look at the burning of buildings, the destruction of property...it's a shame. They don't want to listen. Also what happened with the banning of the film is absolutely illegal; it goes against all laws of freedom of speech and expression. People are not educated, they are not curious to know. But I have sensed a change in the last couple of years.
AK: So do you think that the people of Egypt know the difference between an Egyptian Jew, an Israeli, a Zionist? or are they all "yahoud", and believe me, I have heard enough about this "etba7 el yahoud" stuff.
AR: The people are brainwashed and taught to hate. The Muslim Brotherhood has been at work in the shadows way before they finally came to power. They had infiltrated every branch of the government even as Mubarak was ruling.
AK: Did you meet with Jews from Egypt who had left the country?
AR: I met with the daughters of ......(I can't recall the name, but they are still in Egypt), and then I went to France as I know a large majority of Egyptian Jews went there.
AK: Did you interview anyone in the US?
AR: No, just in France. People expressed a nostalgia for Egypt. They recalled their life, but there was no bitterness.
AK: I have been hearing that French Jews are leaving France and heading to the UK and the US because of antisemitism.
AR: I haven't heard anything about antisemitism in France.
(a short discussion about French Jews ensues).
AK: Did you know that Egypt has been cited as been the most "unsafe" country to travel too, after Yemen and Somalia??? Is it really that unsafe?
AR: If you know where not to go, it's fine. I think that if you came, and had a local with you, and I will certainly be there for you when you come, you will be fine. There are certain places to avoid.
AK: A friend of mine and I were planning to go to Egypt together, and make the case to President Morsi.
AR: Well if you were Israeli, you can be sure he would see you on the spot.
AK: really? why is that?
AR: that would get you in the door immediately....if you were Israeli
AK: I need to see this film before I can continue, but I think perhaps you and I can collaborate on my idea of the Egyptian Jew's right of return. And I don't mean this in the Palestinian sense, because most of the Jews I know would not go back to live in Egypt. But we want to feel as if it's all right to visit our home country,.
AR: And you should; I have a copy of the film here for you. You can see it on your computer but it's not a high resolution copy.
AK: I did read somewhere that the film had been screened in the US. Where was that?
AR: in Palm Springs, California.
AK: What about the Sundance Film Festival? Have you reached out to Robert De Niro, for the Tribeca Film Festival? What about Steven Spielberg?
AR: no, I have not done those, and I don't know how to reach Spielberg, it's not as if you can just pick up the phone and call him.
AK: I would like to try to show this to the Sephardic Jewish Federation; or perhaps some other people.
Is that OK?
AR: Yes, if it's a couple of people at a time on a small screen. But if you want a better copy of a movie screening, get in touch with me.
AK: I believe that in order to make progress in any situation, one needs to offend to effect change.
The conversation continued; Amir told me that some British people were offering their help for worldwide distribution. And minutes before he was to leave the office, he said he was planning to air the film for Egyptians in an open air venue, which he would project onto the National Security Building of Egypt. He said I'm crazy...I'm not afraid...what can they do to me?
Exactly my thinking as I walked with him toward the elevators. And as I turned back to go to my office, I felt as if I had reached a milestone with the meeting of Amir.
I intend to view the film this weekend. And naturally, I will review it.
Now for the title of my article: the myth? That Egyptian Jews needed to be rescued from the persecution of the Egyptians. That there needs to be justice for those Jews who were violently uprooted for no "good reason".