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Israeli orchestra performs in Egypt for the first time in 40 years

Marking Israel’s 74th Independence Day, the Firqat Alnoor orchestra performs Egyptian classics in Cairo; Israeli ambassador touts the power music can have in bridging gaps

Israel's Firqat Alnoor orchestra plays in front of the pyramids in Cairo as part of the Israeli Embassy's Independence Day celebrations in May 2022. (Screencapture/Kan)
Israel's Firqat Alnoor orchestra plays in front of the pyramids in Cairo as part of the Israeli Embassy's Independence Day celebrations in May 2022. (Screencapture/Kan)

An Israeli orchestra has performed in Egypt for the first time in 40 years, surprising locals by playing Egyptian classics from the 50s and 60s.

The event took place as part of Israel’s 74th Independence Day celebrations at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, according to a Tuesday report by public broadcaster Kan.

Ariel Cohen, the conductor and co-founder of the Firqat Alnoor orchestra, described the excitement of being able to perform in the Arab country, which signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979, but has seen relations remain frosty.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Cohen said during an interview with the Kan public broadcaster. “I couldn’t hold in my tears,” he added, noting the warm welcome the group received wherever they went.

“Egyptian music has always been a big part of my artistic life. Personally, performing there for me was a dream come true,” Cohen said.

“The Egyptian audience that attended the event were astonished to see an [Israeli] orchestra performing Egyptian music, and not pop or fusion, but the DNA of Egyptian music… and to play it as it was played in Egypt in the 50s or the 60s — they really appreciated it and complimented us. It was a great pleasure to perform in front of such an audience,” he said.

And while Cohen said he wasn’t sure if music alone could create a warm relationship between Egyptians and Israelis, he said that “music, when it’s done properly, can bring people together, and that’s what we saw when we performed there.”

Some, however, were less excited about the initiative.

Taking to social media, some Egyptians and others from the Arab world called the performance a “betrayal.”

“The treacherous Egyptian regime led by [Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi is opening its gates to the Israeli occupation,” one user said in a tweet.

“Israelis celebrate their Independence Day at the pyramids, shame on Egypt,” another wrote.

But the comments, if anything, show just how unusual and rare the Israeli performance on Egyptian land is perceived.

Illustrative: A Hamas police officer walks in front of large portraits of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, while Hamas leaders meet with Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Gaza City, May 31, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

Israeli ambassador to Egypt Amira Oron, who spearheaded the initiative, touted the power music can have in bringing people together.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm and excitement, which proves that culture and music specifically are the best bridge for connecting peoples and countries,” Oron said.

“Such events are a reflection of turning words like ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ into reality,” she argued. “The visit was made possible thanks to the hard work of the embassy’s staff and was welcomed with great excitement by the many guests, Egyptians and foreigners alike,” Oron added.

Firqat Alnoor orchestra (translates from Arabic as “the band of light”) mostly plays Arabic and classic Mediterranean music. It was established in 2013 with the aim of promoting music shared by Jewish and Muslim cultures.

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