CAIRO — Egypt on Wednesday canceled a Jewish festival held in the Nile Delta each year, citing concerns about the local response to heightened security at a time of uncertainty between Egypt and Israel.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Amr Roshdi said the decision to cancel Saturday’s event at the tomb of Jewish holy man Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hatzira had been relayed to Israeli officials and reflected a wish not to “provoke public discussion on the relationship with Israel.”
The festival, which draws hundreds of Israeli pilgrims annually, has often sparked angry reactions from local villagers objecting to the intensive security arrangements.
“The situation is not suitable to have it this year with all that’s going on in Egypt: the elections, the police trying to reassert control and the protests,” Roshdi said.
The government’s move underscores the changing relationship between Israel and post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt. The former president maintained relations with Israel, as laid out in the 1979 Camp David peace treaty, in part by curbing civil liberties with his expansive police force. Since his ouster last winter, anti-Israeli sentiment driven by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has risen to the surface, and Israeli-Egyptian tensions have grown.
Relations soured further in the fall after a mid-August cross-border attack from Egypt led to the killing of at least five Egyptian border guards as Israeli troops pursued alleged militants. Many activists called for revisions of the peace treaty and protests outside the Israeli Embassy turned violent when some demonstrators stormed the building.
“I think Israel understands,” Roshdi said of the cancellation. “No one is in the mood to provoke more public discussions at this time.”
The deputy spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry said officials from both countries were discussing allowing the ceremony in years to come. “We understand the security concerns,” Paul Hirschson said, “but we would like to see this pilgrimage continue.”
Abu Hatzira’s great-grandson said many pilgrims were already too worried about security to make the trek to the tomb of the 19th-century Moroccan-Jewish rabbi, who died in the city of Damanhur, north of Cairo.
“Who would dare go there?” Rabbi Yeiel Abu Hatzira said. “We see that the mob does what it wants, not fearing the police or the military.”
The festival was allowed by Mubarak but kept low-key, with a limited number of pilgrims allowed to attend. He suspended it in 2009 because it came as Israel was conducting an offensive in Gaza. It resumed last year.
Sockol reported from Jerusalem.