Egypt Opens Ben Azra Synagogue after Renovation

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly (center) attends the
inauguration of the newly restored Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt,
August 31, 2023. (Egyptian Cabinet)
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly (center) attends the inauguration of the newly restored Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt, August 31, 2023. (Egyptian Cabinet)
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Egypt Opens Ben Azra Synagogue after Renovation

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly (center) attends the
inauguration of the newly restored Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt,
August 31, 2023. (Egyptian Cabinet)
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly (center) attends the inauguration of the newly restored Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt, August 31, 2023. (Egyptian Cabinet)

Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly inaugurated on Thursday the Ben Azra Synagogue, one of the oldest Jewish temples in Egypt, according to a cabinet statement.

“The restoration included meticulous architectural revamping as well as solutions to address and mitigate risks to the temple’s ceilings, isolating surfaces using the best insulation methods, cleaning stones, and reconfiguring the site to ensure proper visual appreciation of its historical significance. The temple also saw a complete maintenance of the lighting system, cleansing of copper, iron elements and marble columns, and restoration of the archaeological decorations and library,” said Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Ahmed Issa in a statement.

The restoration began in April 2022, according to a statement by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which indicated at the time that the last restoration of the temple took place in 1991.

“The synagogue is one of the most important and oldest Jewish temples in Egypt, housing numerous valuable books about the customs, traditions, and social life of the Jewish community in Egypt,” the tourism minister explained.

It embraces the “Geniza”, which consists of a collection of books, scrolls, and papers specific to the Egyptian Jewish community, Issa added.

The “Geniza” was discovered in 1890, during a restoration that followed a roof collapse in one of the synagogue’s rooms. Closed from all sides, the roofless room stored books and historic papers for a long time until it was discovered, and the content was transferred to the Cambridge University.

Constructed in the 12th century, the synagogue was named after Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra. The rectangular-shaped building stretches over an area of 3,500 meters. It has decoration-free facades, and Basilica interior design boasting three parallel corridors; the largest of them is in the middle, and includes two platforms known as “The Miracle Atlas” and the “Bimah” for prayers.

On the second floor, there is a prayer balcony for women with two rooms for belongings. Behind the synagogue sets a purification well, and the roof and walls of the building are covered with gypsum, and feature Arabesque architectural decorations.

The libraries of the southwestern hallway include six adjacent closets in one rectangular frame, decorated with ivory, shells, and Hebrew carvings.

The Ben Ezra Synagogue saw several restorations, the largest of which was in 1889. At the time, most of the building was demolished and rebuilt again in the same old Basilica style. In 1982, a 10-year comprehensive restoration project was carried out by the Canadian Center for Architecture mission in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The Ben Ezra Temple is located on Mar Girgis Street, in the Religious Complex, near the Coptic Museum and the Church of Abu Sarga. It was originally a church called Al-Shama'in sold by the Orthodox Church in 882 to the Jewish community.

Recently, Egypt restored several Jewish synagogues and monuments. In 2020, it opened the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria. Dr. Hussein Abdel Basir, director of the Antiquities Museum at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Egypt has 11 Jewish synagogues, nine in Cairo and two in Alexandria.

On Thursday, the Egyptian Prime Minister attended the opening of several archaeological sites alongside Ben Ezra, including the Babylon Fortress.

Issa explained that the restoration of the Babylon Fortress consisted of the development of its southern part below the Hanging Church, following the first phase of the project, which included cleaning all the external and internal facades of the fort, and the upgrade of the lighting system in various parts.

The minister added that the only remaining parts of the fort's buildings are the front door surrounded by two large towers. The Hanging Church was built over one of the two towers, and the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral (Melkites) was built over the other.



Protecting 1.2% of Earth Would Prevent Most Extinctions, Study Says 

Mexican gray wolves, an endangered native species, are seen resting in their enclosure at the Museo del Desierto in Saltillo, Mexico July 1, 2020. Picture taken July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
Mexican gray wolves, an endangered native species, are seen resting in their enclosure at the Museo del Desierto in Saltillo, Mexico July 1, 2020. Picture taken July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
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Protecting 1.2% of Earth Would Prevent Most Extinctions, Study Says 

Mexican gray wolves, an endangered native species, are seen resting in their enclosure at the Museo del Desierto in Saltillo, Mexico July 1, 2020. Picture taken July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
Mexican gray wolves, an endangered native species, are seen resting in their enclosure at the Museo del Desierto in Saltillo, Mexico July 1, 2020. Picture taken July 1, 2020. (Reuters)

Setting aside an additional 1.2% of the world's land as nature preserves would prevent the majority of predicted plant and animal extinctions and cost about $263 billion, according to a study published on Tuesday.

The world is racing to meet a goal to protect 30% of the world by 2030 to protect wildlife that is being decimated by climate change, pollution and habitat destruction.

Global policymakers will meet at a United Nations summit in Colombia in October to discuss plans for reaching that goal.

The study in the journal Frontiers in Science aimed to identify the highest value areas in hope that they be included in those protection plans, said Carlos Peres, a study co-author and conservation ecology expert at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

"Most countries do not actually have a strategy," Peres said.

"The 30-by-30 targets still lack a lot of details because it doesn't actually say what 30 percent should be protected."

The study's proposed protections would cover an additional 1.6 million square km (633,000 square miles) - an area about a fifth the size of the United States - across 16,825 sites globally that are home to rare and threatened species.

That's on top of the nearly 16% of the world that already have some level of protection.

The study estimated the $263 billion bill is how much it would cost to acquire the new areas, many of which include private property, at current value over the next five years.

"Time is not on our side because it will become increasingly more expensive and more difficult to set aside additional protected areas," Peres said.

Land acquisition makes up most of the cost of creating protected areas, and the study did not consider the upkeep costs for policing the reserves.

About three-quarters of the sites are tropical forests, as those are the world's most biodiverse ecosystems. The Phillipines, Brazil and Indonesia are home to more than half of the high-value sites.

Russia is the single country with the most high-valued area ripe for conservation with 138,436 square km identified in the study, an area the size of Greece.

Several African countries also topped the list with Madagascar having the fourth-highest number of sites overall while the Democratic Republic of Congo had the largest area targeted for conservation on the continent.

The United States is the only developed nation among the top 30 countries in the analysis, with 0.6% of the sites or an area twice the size of Delaware.

The researchers only considered land and freshwater ecosystems but not oceans or marine protected areas. Researchers did not include invertebrates in the study, as the geographical distributions insects and other such animals are not well mapped.