Restoration work at the Cairo synagogue where Moses Maimonides once worked and studied.(NYTimes.com)

When Egypt’s antiquities department two weeks ago announced plans to restore a medieval synagogue, many immediately smelled a ploy: Farouk Hosny, the country’s minister of culture—who last year made an incendiary comment about burning Israeli books—is angling for the position of Unesco director general, and so Egypt, conspiracy theorist argued, was trying to make nice with the Jews. Yesterday, though, the New York Times told a more nuanced version of the story. Egypt has “slowly, quietly been working to restore its synagogues for several years,” the paper reported, but has been keeping the efforts secret because of widespread anti-Semitism among the populace. “This was such a reverse of what we experienced in Eastern Europe, where governments don’t do much but want to present the picture they are doing things,” said an American Jewish Committee director quoted in the article. “In Egypt they were doing things but, ‘Shhh, don’t let anybody know!’” Now that the government’s promoting Hosny for the Unesco job, though, looking good to international observers has trumped the cause of not infuriating its own citizens.

Private Motive for Egypt’s Public Embrace of a Jewish Past