A stranger walking the streets of Cairo, Egypt, may be surprised by storefronts decorated with Nazi symbols and even the image of Adolf Hitler himself, unusually dressed in a flowered shirt and sunglasses. The controversial scene, however, is far from the norm in the country. But it reflects one side of the country's political and religious history.
The images of the façades spread across social networks, but were soon erased across the platforms, following the Nazi icon suppression policy applied by companies like Facebook.
Tucked away in neighborhoods like Zawya Hamraa and Qalyub, the shops boast Nazi symbols such as the eagle and swastika on their facades. But when you step inside, what you see are normal clothes for sale, without props that refer to Nazi Germany.
Despite these few sympathetic trades of the Nazi leader, people's appreciation for the dictator is not shared by the vast majority of the population. In 2016, the city was outraged that a shop on Shawarbi Street, one of Cairo's best-known shopping and financial centers, opened under the name of Hitler and a swastika stamped on the facade.
The owner of the establishment, Osama Farouk, told the Gulf News news site at the time that the "name and emblem attracted" his admiration. “So I decided to put them in front of my store,” he said, having no idea what tragedy and destruction they represented. Farouk also stated that the symbols had no political connotation, only aesthetics and did not understand why the repercussions.
Even with the negative repercussion of the Farouk store case, others appeared around Cairo. The explanation for the phenomenon can be found in the political and religious history of Egypt in the twentieth century, unfriendly for decades to the creation of the state of Israel and even less sympathetic to the Jews in its territory.
The latest survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) showed that in 2014, about 75% of the Egyptian population said they agreed with prejudiced and intolerant views of the Jewish people, with 78% believing that Jewish communities were more loyal to Israel than that to the country in which they lived. In comparison, data from the same year showed that in Brazil, only 14% of the population had the same perception.
Men's Clothing Store in Cairo: Nazism in Trade Name and Facade Google Maps / Reproduction
Conflict between Arab Muslims and Jews predates the creation of Israel in 1948 and the consolidation of Arab national states, but this animosity was very different from that observed in Europe, according to Daniel Douek, a researcher at the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of St. Paulo (USP). "In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the life of Jews in Muslim-majority countries was more peaceful than in places like Eastern Europe, mostly Christian, marked by persecution and slaughter."
During World War II, sectors of the Arab world saw Hitler as an outlet for British and French colonialism in the region and began to sympathize with the Axis countries. Palestinian leader Mohammad Amin Husayni sought in Nazi Germany the necessary support to prevent the creation of a Jewish state and to secure the self-determination of Palestine that was then controlled by the British Empire.
Adolf Hitler meets Palestinian leader Haj Amin Husseini: alliance to prevent Israel's creation Keystone / Getty Images
A supporter of Nazi propaganda spread in the region for years, Husayni helped spread anti-Semitism through religious organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Anti-Semitic sentiment intensified in the Muslim population as the Arab-Israeli conflicts unfolded with the independence war and the creation of the State of Israel in May 1948.
In the same year of Israel's creation, 80,000 Jews resided in Egypt. But following the military coup and the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein to power in 1954, Jewish families began to be expelled from the country. Currently there are almost no Jews in Egypt.
In total there were three wars between Israel and Arab League countries (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) over the twentieth century. But it was in 1956 that Egypt and Israel, along with France and England, came into direct confrontation over the dominance of the Suez Canal.
The last conflict in 1967 profoundly altered the borders in the region. In just six days, the Israeli Army occupied and annexed the Sinai Peninsula (formerly Egyptian territory), the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Syrian Golan Heights.
Despite an armistice signed between countries, there has not been a peace treaty since then to end hostilities, although relations between Israel and Egypt have improved in recent decades. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017 – the first among leaders of the two countries in 40 years.
The religious component is also an ingredient in the Egyptian people's conception of Israel. In the early 2000s, the Muslim Brotherhood political-religious movement began to gain strength in Egypt and to gain more and more supporters.
Founded in 1928 from a Sunni branch, the Brotherhood preaches the adoption of Sharia law as a state law. Its leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef, who died in 2010, used to stand up for former Shi'ite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he declared the Holocaust a lie and a fraud.
In 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood participated in the Egyptian parliamentary elections and won 88 of the 454 seats. The traditional opposition has only 33 seats. Following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 by protesters during the Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood pledged its presidential candidate. Elected, Mohamed Morsi was deposed the year after his inauguration for a military coup in 2013.
Despite the country's history, sympathies to Nazi Germany or its ideology do not usually find room within the House of Representatives. On October 3, 2019, Mayor Ali Abdel Aal cited Hitler's advances in construction to defend Sisi's spending on infrastructure projects. Soon Aal began to receive criticism from opposition parties and the government.
The mayor apologized the next day, and said Hitler "committed several crimes and could never be praised."