Jews of Egypt: Film Review

More oral history than compelling cinema, this important documentary nonetheless tells an important story.

Amir Ramses' documentary chronicles the forced deportation of Jews from Egypt in the 1950s.

The recent political upheaval in Egypt adds a haunting resonance to Jews of Amir Ramsis’ illuminating documentary chronicling the period in the first half of the twentieth century when Jewish people were a widely accepted segment of the population before they were systematically expelled from the country in the 1950s. Featuring extensive interviews with many of the survivors, most of whom were children at the time, Jews of Egypt is an important historical document, even if its cinematic qualities are less than galvanizing.

As the interview subjects attest, Egyptian Jews--composed of both European emigrants and those born there--were vital contributors to society, especially in the areas of culture and business, whose allegiance to the country was unquestioned. Things began to change dramatically with the growing rise of the Zionist movement, which was passionately condemned by the Muslim Brotherhood and inspired a wave of anti-Semitism that included the persecution of Jews and the passage of a law forcing them to convert to Islam. The 1952 military coup and ensuing nationalization of the Suez Canal, which brought about a military alliance among England, France and Israel against the country, resulted in the Jewish people still remaining being stripped of their citizenship and deported and in some cases imprisoned.  

As is so often the case with these sorts of documentaries, the film consists largely of a procession of talking heads, mostly consisting of those who had been forced to leave the country but also including several scholars providing historical context. Despite the inclusion of archival photos and film footage, the results more closely resemble an oral history than cinema, with an inevitable stasis setting in early.

Still, many of the testimonials are both fascinating and deeply moving, as when one elderly refugee defiantly states, “I am not a Jewish Egyptian, I am an Egyptian Jew.” Many express a still lingering anguish over having to leave their native country, with one emotionally describing a return visit to Alexandria in which his long forgotten memories came flooding back.

Opens March 28 (ArtMattan Productions)

Production: Session Film Productions

Director/screenwriter: Amir Ramses

Executive producer/composer: Haitham Al Khamissi

Directors of photography: John Hakiem, Moustafa Youssef, Amir Ramses

Editors: Amir Ramses, Haitham Al Khamissi

Not rated, 96 min.

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