File photo: the shrine of the Jewish saint "Abu Hasira" in Egypt's Beheira governorate (Photo: Al-Ahram)
Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court rejected on Saturday an appeal against a 2014 ruling barring the transfer to Israel of the remains of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira, known commonly in Egypt as "Abu Hasira."
"Egypt is a country of religious tolerance, and it is not permissible to transfer the remains of a Jewish rabbi to Israel, because the People of the Scriptures – those who believe in the 'Torah' or the 'Gospel' – enjoy all rights in Egypt. Transferring [the remains] would contradict Islam’s tolerance and its generous view of the People of the Scriptures," the court said, adding that the remains should not be transferred to Jerusalem given the city’s Arab identity.
Saturday's ruling, which is a final verdict and cannot be appealed, also overturned the former minister of culture’s decision to categorise Abu Hasira's shrine as being one of the country’s Islamic and Coptic monuments.
The administrative court also ordered the government to publish this in the state’s official journal and to inform UNESCO of the decision.
In December 2014, an Alexandria administrative court banned the controversial annual religious festival (moulid) of Abu Hasira in Beheira governorate. The court also ordered the removal of the shrine for the revered Jewish rabbi from the Egyptian antiquities and monuments list.
The shrine of Abu Hasira and the Jewish cemetery next to it were registered as a monument, in accordance with a decision by the culture minister in January 2001.
The court also rejected a request by Tel Aviv at the time to transfer the remains of the Jewish rabbi to Israel, as this violates Islamic teachings prohibiting the exhumation of graves.
This is not the first time the administrative court has banned the annual festival of Abu Hasira. In 2001, the Alexandria administrative court also cancelled the celebrations, and they were again cancelled in 2012 by Egyptian authorities, who cited political instability.
The pilgrimage of Jews to the annual celebration of the birth of the Moroccan rabbi, who is believed to have died in the Egyptian village of Damatiuh during the 1880s, has often caused civil unrest in the village, spurred by locals who refuse to normalise relations with Israel.
The local community in Damatiuh also maintains that the Jewish rabbi was not buried in Egypt, and was actually buried in Morocco.