Egypt will shoulder the costs of restoring the country's Jewish houses of worship said the culture minister Tuesday, two days after a historic synagogue in Cairo's ancient Jewish quarter was rededicated in a private ceremony.
Farouk Hosny said in a statement that his ministry views Jewish sites as much a part of Egypt's culture as Muslim mosques or Coptic churches and the restorations would not require any foreign funding.
On Sunday, the Ben Maimon synagogue, named after the 12th century rabbi and intellectual Maimonides, was rededicated in a ceremony including half a dozen Egyptian Jewish families that long ago fled the country.
Hosny committed his ministry to restoring all 11 synagogues across Egypt, three of which have already been renovated. The best-known synagogue that of Ben Ezra, is located in Cairo's Christian quarter near a number of old churches and was restored years ago.
The ceremony at the Ben Maimon synagogue was closed to media but attendees said it was an emotional event, especially for the Egyptian-Jewish families invited, many of whom now live in Europe.
"There were some lectures on the Jewish sites in Egypt and the temple. It was nice, emotional and nostalgic," said Raymond Stock, an American close to the Jewish community in Cairo who attended the three-day event.
A group of about 11 Hassidic Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis also came to Cairo from the United States and Israel sang at the event.
Egypt's Jewish community, which dates back millennia and at its peak in the 1940s numbered around 80,000, is down to several dozen, almost all of them elderly. The rest were driven out decades ago by mob violence and persecution tied in large part to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Egypt and Israel fought a war every decade from the 1940s to the 1970s until the 1979 peace treaty was signed.
Despite that treaty, Egyptian sentiment remains deeply unfriendly to Israel, and anti-Semitic stereotypes still occasionally appear in the Egyptian media.
Last September, Hosny blamed a conspiracy "cooked up in New York" by the world's Jews when he lost a bid from becoming the next head of the UN's agency for culture and education.
At the time, Hosny's candidacy raised an outcry because of a threat he made in the Egyptian parliament in 2008 to personally burn any Israeli book he found in the Alexandria Library.
While he later apologized and Israel said it had withdrawn its opposition to his candidacy, several prominent Jewish activists spoke out against him in the run-up to the vote.