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Is there any room for the Jews, Copts and other religious minorities in the new Egypt?

Newt Gingrich's amazing victory in South Carolina means that it will be a long time before the winner of the Republican presidential primary season is declared. Halfway around the world, however, another election cycle has produced clear-cut results: In a historic first, the Muslim Brotherhood, together with other Islamist parties have won a resounding 70% of the seats in Egypt's Parliament.

Some see the results of proof that the democratic process is alive and well in the Arab world's largest nation. Indeed, former President Jimmy Carter declared he was "pleased" by the orderliness of the process; yet he and other international figures are devastatingly silent about Islamists’ moves to curb the liberties of religious minorities, starting with the Jews.

Witness the broad-based protest spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood that led the Foreign Ministry, on the day after the final election run-off to announce the cancellation of an annual religious pilgrimage to honor a saintly Jewish Scholar who died over 1,100 years ago.

Jews from North Africa have an age-old tradition (Hilula) of visiting the graves of the pious on the anniversary of their death. The Hilula combines prayers and songs. Each year hundreds of Jews, including Israelis, made a pilgrimage to a hilltop mausoleum Egyptian city Damanhour, to the Tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hatzeira, a renowned religious figure from Morocco, who fell ill and died there in 1880, enroute to the Holy Land.

Sometimes contemporary events, like Israel’s 2009 incursion into Gaza made such visits impossible. But as late as last year, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak allowed hundreds of Jewish pilgrims to visit the Abu Hatzeira’s Tomb, which is an official antiquity site protected by the government of Egypt.

Not this year.

According to, MENA, the state-run news agency reported that a number of political groups announced that they would form a human chain if necessary, to block any “Zionists” from reaching the mausoleum for the religious rite.

The groups signing on to the protest were led by Egypt's new power brokers-- the Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and JusticeParty, along with the Nasserist Trend, the April 6 Youth Movement, BloggersAgainst Abu Hasira and Mohamed ElBaradei's presidential campaign. The Hilula celebration, in the view of these groups “was unpopular, and unacceptable legally and politically.”

It is easy to see why a ‘Hilula’ taking place on an isolated hill in a small town would horrify so many Egyptians. After all, the celebration traditionally includes the consumption of dried fruit, butter and feteer, as the faithful sit alongside the mausoleum, cry, and the recitation of King David's Psalms.

Yesterday's intolerant chants have already become today's policy.

It is clear that the heroes of Tahrir Square and all the hopes that their struggle would lead their nation and the entire Middle East into a 21st century of change and freedom have been "democratically" defeated by fanatics seeking to drive their nation's value system back to the 12th century.

We got the message loud and clear: There is no room in the new Egypt for Jews, dead or alive. 

So we will mourn our loved ones from afar and pray that the 'new' Egypt will honor in deed, if not word, its peace treaty with Israel. 

But the worldview of The Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and other religious extremists present a clear and present danger to Egypt’s historic Coptic community, the region’s largest Christian minority. Their churches and their faithful have already been targets of religious-fueled terrorism. There are reports that thousands of Copts have already fled in wake of the Islamist political tsunami. But there are millions of Copts, representing at least 10% of Egypt’s population.

If the Copts are to survive and thrive, President Carter and other human rights activist should demand that all true democracies, led by the United States and the European Unions link future aid to Cairo to show  how the new, democratic Egypt treats it religious minorities.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Follow the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Facebook and on Twitter.

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