Mixing it up
Sir -- My Italian grandparents spent the best part of their lives in Egypt, living in an apartment building in Heliopolis, which was an eclectic multi-ethnic and multi-cultural compound. Their neighbours were Armenians, Lebanese and Egyptian Jews.
Elderly Egyptians still nostalgically reminisce about Greek grocers whose shops were so common all around the country, not just in Cairo and Alexandria.
When the renaissance of Egypt commenced in the 19th century at the hands of Mohamed Ali Pasha (who was Albanian), Egypt assimilated its Muslim, Coptic Christian, and Jewish population and growing number of foreign communities.
Has it drawn anybody's attention that Egyptian Jews were not segregated in ghettoes like their co-religionists in Europe? On the contrary, Egyptian Jews were fully integrated in Egyptian society, and considerably contributed in arts and economy.
Is it not a matter of fact that till now many well-off Muslim families prefer to enrol their children in Coptic and nun-run schools?
Egyptian culture has gradually and radically changed during the past five decades, thanks to education curricula that depict a unilateral view of Egypt and exclude whatever relates to the other such as the Coptic era, and media outlets that consecrate stereotypes and build up a barrier of wariness towards the other while at the same time waxing lyrical on the national unity of the nation.
Confronted with such profound hostility, foreign communities in Egypt tapered off while the sporadic assaults on the Copts led to obtrusive waves of emigration.
One of the most alarming phenomena that strikes anybody is the prevalent denial of Coptic grievances and underestimation of the attacks on them as mere individual cases that should not be blown out of proportion.
So it is bewildering that those rational voices that highlight the troubles of Copts are either rejected and termed as being more Catholic than the pope or are frowned upon and accused of fanning sectarianism.
Egypt should not fritter away its inestimable legacy of co- existence and needs a determined attempt to preserve its multi-layered, multi-cultural heritage.
Sir -- Just like The Band's Visit and Waltz with Bashir, the latest Israeli film Lemon Tree spoke in favour of the Palestinians like no Palestinian or Arab production ever did.
The Israeli characters, as portrayed in those three movies, seemed lost and baffled; it was clear none of them had been happy. They went to wars and built settlements and walls that only increased their isolation because they had no other choice. The Palestinians or Arabs in general on the other side, appeared more balanced, passionate and determined. Unlike the Israelis, they knew exactly what they've been fighting for, they had a case and valid claim to the land in which they were deeply rooted, and of which they had been deprived.
Why would Israelis make films putting their vulnerabilities on display before the whole world? The Israeli Supreme Court in the film accepted to look at the case of a helpless Palestinian widow's lemon grove, whereas in neighbouring Arab countries, Supreme Courts are better known for smoothly affirming death sentences against political opponents.
No wonder the Arabs, after 60 years of conflict with Israel, have lost all battles. Like the film says:
"Lemon tree very pretty
And the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat."