Hundreds of Jews from Israel, Europe, and the United States started flocking to the Egyptian Nile Delta to celebrate the festival of Abu Hasira amid popular protests and legal objections to the violation of a court order that cancelled marking the Jewish event.
The announcement of the arrival of 550 Jewish pilgrims to Cairo to celebrate the festival of Abu Hasira, a Moroccan Jew believed to have died in the village of Damatiuh, outside the delta city of Damanhour where the event takes place, stirred fury of village residents, civil organizations, and political parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Bloggers against Abu Hasira group, the You Will Not Cross My Land campaign and the opposition parties of al-Ghad and al-Karama announced plans to stage a protest on January 6 in front of the Damanhour Courts Complex against holding the festival, which is banned by a court order.
Residents of the Delta governorate of al-Behira, in which the village in located, collected one million signatures and filed several lawsuits against the event, and the Supreme Administrative Court issued a verdict in 2001 that cancelled the celebration and annulled the decision of Culture Minister Farouk Hosni to consider Abu Hasira shrine a site of national heritage. But Egyptian authorities did not implement the court order.
Relations with Israel
The Egyptian government differentiates between political relations and popular normalization with Israel, said Dr. Emad Gad, head of the Israeli Studies Division at al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies.
“The Egyptian people object to several issues related to Israel like the export of natural gas, but the Egyptian government goes ahead with them anyway,” he told AlArabiya.net.
The same applies to the Abu Hasira festival since celebrating it was an official demand by the Israeli government as part of the diplomatic relations between the two countries, Gad explained.
Gad added that allowing the Jewish festival to be held is also related to Egypt’s diplomatic ties with the United States.
“If the event is banned, the Jewish lobby in the United States will launch a severe campaign against Egypt and the United States might accuse Egypt of religious intolerance.”
However, Gad pointed out that Egypt is still careful as far as normalization with Israel is concerned.
“Egypt never allows the relationship with Israel to go out of control due to the threat this poses to its national security.”
The Egyptian people object to several issues related to Israel like the export of natural gas, but the Egyptian government goes ahead with them anyway
Israeli affairs expert Dr. Emad Gad
The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel stipulates freedom of movement between the two countries and that is why it is impossible to prevent Israelis from entering Egypt, said Judge al-Bayoumi Mohamed al-Bayoumi.
“Yet, there is a court order that concerns this specific festival and the Egyptian authorities have to implement it,” he told AlArabiya.net.
Bayoumi added that Egyptians have nothing against Jews or Judaism, yet the current political situation makes it hard for Egyptians to accept holding the festival.
“In addition to the killings in Palestine, a new Israeli spying network was uncovered. This confirms that Israel is trying to infiltrate Egypt in many ways and this festival could be one of them.”
On the other hand, former Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv Mohamed Bassyouni argued that Abu Hasira festival is not related to the peace treaty.
“The peace treaty involves the establishment of diplomatic ties, economic cooperation, and freedom of movement between the two countries and has nothing to do with religious festivals,” he told AlArabiya.net.
This means, Bassyouni added, that with or without a court order the Egyptian government has the right to decide whether the festival should be held or not.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, agrees with the court order and stresses that the Abu Hasira shrine is not a site of national heritage.
“This is just a celebration in a small alley in an Egyptian village. This has nothing to do with historic sites,” he told AlArabiya.net.
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)
The peace treaty involves the establishment of diplomatic ties, economic cooperation, and freedom of movement between the two countries and has nothing to do with religious festivals
Former Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv Mohamed Bassyouni