Border with Egypt
Border with Egypt Israel news photo: Flash 90

Carmen Weinstein, the leader of Egypt's small remaining Jewish community, died on Saturday at the age of 84, a friend and lawyer said, according to AFP.

Weinstein, who fought for the preservation of Jewish synagogues and heritage sites in Egypt, died of natural causes, said Magda Haroun, one of the few Jews left in the Arab country.

"She was a strong woman. She fought for the safeguarding of the Jewish cemetery and the synagogues," said Haroun.

Weinstein always shunned the spotlight in a country where hostility towards Jews, fuelled by conflicts with neighboring Israel, is pervasive.

In her final years, she fought against a fraud conviction over a sale of apartments and saw a three-year prison sentence overturned. She did not serve any time behind bars, reported AFP.

Weinstein will be buried in Cairo's Jewish cemetery, Haroun said, after which elections will be held in the community to name a new leader.

Much of the Jewish community in Egypt left the country after the Suez Crisis in 1956 which saw then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser expel Jews who were deemed disloyal to the nation.

Today, Egypt's Jewish population consists of just a few dozen. The community keeps a low profile for fear of being persecuted.

Last month Egyptian security services banned a film about the Jews of Egypt on the eve of its scheduled release.

The film documents the lives of members of the Egyptian Jewish community in the first half of the 20th century, exploring themes of identity and tolerance.

A Muslim Brotherhood official and a senior aide to President Mohammed Morsi recently caused an uproar in Egypt over his remarks that Egyptian Jews should leave Israel and reclaim their properties back at home.

The official, Essam al-Erian, said during a television interview that "it is better for Jews to live in a country like Egypt rather than in a country contaminated by occupation."

He added that the Jews should return immediately to Egypt to "make way for the Palestinian people" and said, "Every Egyptian has the right to come back to Egypt, no matter what his religion."

Erian later sought to dispel the controversy he caused by saying that the "ideology of Zionism" had ended in failure and predicting that Israel will cease to exist within a decade.

He subsequently resigned from his position, with analysts saying that there was no doubt that he was pressured to quit.