600 Israelis in Egypt for Abu Hasira festival

The delta city of Damanhour now looks more like a military encampment, with tight security measures being put in place for some 600 Israelis coming today to celebrate the anniversary of the death of Abu Hasira, a 19th-century Jewish Rabbi whose mausoleum is located in the village of Damtu outside the city.

In response to increasing objections by both village residents and civil society organizations to a Jewish festival being held on Egyptian soil, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld a 2001 lower court decision to abolish the annual event. Nevertheless, 400 Israelis arrived to the village Tuesday, while another group of 200 is expected to arrive today, including 40 Jewish rabbis. The visitors are reportedly staying in four hotels in Cairo and two in Alexandria.

Security forces currently deployed in and around Damanhour prevented reporters from entering the village. They also thwarted a planned demonstration against the festival by pro-democracy protest movement Kefaya and arrested three of the group’s members.

Meanwhile, two secular opposition parties–the Ghad Party and the Nasserist Party–and the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement staged a protest vigil in front of Damanhour’s municipal court before being dispersed by security forces.

"Security forces managed to prevent us from staging a peaceful protest," said Nasserist Party Organizational Secretary Gamal Mounib. "Next time, though, we’ll resort to non-peaceful measures–and no one can dare call us ‘terrorists’ since these Zionists have failed to respect our court rulings."

Mohamed Dawood, chairman of an Egyptian travel agency that caters to Jewish pilgrims, said the court ruling was not binding for Israelis.

"Egypt is an important destination for tourists coming from all over the world. It should not deny certain nationalities access to certain tourist sites on its territory," said Dawood. "After all, we have many Israeli tourists that come every year to Sharm el-Sheikh and Taba in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula."

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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