Cairo – It was a historic meeting on Tuesday afternoon as a delegation of approximately two dozen prominent American Jews from all across the United States spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi, discussing a variety of matters including the Congressional Gold Medal being awarded posthumously to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Middle East stability, terrorism and other issues of mutual interest.
The meeting was part of a three day leadership mission to Egypt which began on Monday and was coordinated by the Anwar Sadat Congressional Gold Medal Commission under the leadership of chairman Shafik Gabr in conjunction with the New York City based The Freidlander Group.
Escorted by a police motorcade provided by Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the group traveled to Heliopolis Palace in Cairo for the 12:30 meeting, enjoying a rare two hour visit with President Sisi in the Egyptian presidential palace.
The Friedlander Group CEO Ezra Friedlander addressed the group, praising Sisi for carrying on Sadat’s heroic legacy of peace and diplomacy, his leadership and the pivotal role he plays in ensuring Middle East stability and protecting the Unites States’ national security interests.
Friedlander urged the Egyptian president to join Jehan Sadat in accepting the Congressional Gold Medal being awarded to her late husband, a move that he said would build bridges between new generations of Egyptians and Americans and be a harbinger of peace and prosperity in the region.
The meeting, which also included senior Egyptian presidential officials and high ranking ministers, took place nearly 40 years to the day after the Camp David peace treaty was signed by Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It was unprecedented in many ways, observed Friedlander.
“For the most important Arab leader, who was just named president of the African Union, to carve two hours of his precious time out of his schedule is unheard of,” Friedlander told VIN News. “Heads of state will typically allow only 15 or 20 minute meetings, even with their counterparts from other countries. The length of our meeting underscores the importance that the government of Egypt and President Sisi himself attaches to the Congressional Gold Medal legislation signed by President Trump.”
Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy president Harley Lippman spoke with Sisi about several issues including the clash between extremism and tolerance, his herculean efforts to maintain peace and security in a very contentious area of the world and the need for Egypt, Israel and America to unite against their common enemies.
“Israel and Egypt have a shared interest in combatting extremism in the region and for the first time in memory the two countries share extraordinary common interests,” observed Lippman. “For the last 40 years there have been no wars between Israel and Egypt, when in years prior wars erupted far more frequently, with many Israelis losing their lives.”
Drawing on the Jewish people’s ancient links to Egypt, Henry Manoucheri, a leader in Los Angeles’ Persian Jewish community, told Sisi that Egyptians and Jews are linked by a common historic bond that connects their souls. Manoucheri said that he found Sisi to be positive, emotional and clever, blessing him with a long life and many years in the Egyptian presidential palace.
Sisi politely refused Manoucheri’s offer to cover the cost of much needed repairs to Egypt’s dilapidated Jewish cemeteries. Two hours later, the requested work was already underway at the cemeteries, reported New York City’s City Planning Commissioner Joseph Douek, a member of Brooklyn’s Egyptian Jewish community who was also part of the delegation.
“Representatives of what is left of the local Jewish community told me that shortly after our meeting, they received a call from the municipality saying that the work had started and that the local Jewish community would be called in to inspect their efforts,” said Douek, the great nephew of Egypt’s last chief rabbi, Rabbi Haim Moussa Douek.
Douek also spoke with Sisi about the return of several Torahs and archived documents that are being held in Egypt but was told that those items would remain in the country.
“He told me that they were all being well maintained and well preserved, something that I know for a fact to be true,” said Douek. “He offered to make us the best possible copies of any documents but insisted that the originals were part of Egyptian heritage and history. While it wasn’t the answer I wanted, he was honest and forthright and I respect his response.”
Lebanese born Rabbi Elie Abadie, rabbi of Manhattan East Synagogue, head of the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan and president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, conversed with Sisi in his native tongue, inviting him to Washington to see the Congressional Gold Medal and explaining its significance.
“I told him that we appreciate his strategic alliance with Israel and his friendship with the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Abadie. “After discussing Egypt’s Jewish heritage sites, I gave him the special blessing that is said for heads of government. It was all in Arabic and he responded in kind saying ‘Āmīn, Āmīn’, the Arabic form of ‘Amein.’”
Friedlander said that the meeting surpassed all of his expectations and that he was grateful for the opportunity to be able to demonstrate American Jewry’s staunch support for Sisi and the pivotal role that he plays in the Middle East and in addressing terror worldwide. He stressed that Sisi’s presence at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony later this year at the Capitol Building would make a strong statement that would resonate worldwide.
“President Sisi’s participation will further reinforce the message of belief and hope that the vision of a Middle East where tolerance, not terror, can flourish, is both possible and urgently needed,” said Friedlander. “We at the Sadat Gold Medal Commission along with our congressional representatives and leaders, and by extension the American people, would be privileged to have him accept the Gold Medal as prescribed in the legislation when it will be presented posthumously to the late President Sadat and given to Mrs. Jehan Sadat.”