Egyptian authorities have cancelled the visit of a delegation of elderly, Egyptian-born Jews to Cairo from Israel because a local media storm made the situation too sensitive, Egyptian security officials said Sunday.
Some 45 elderly Jews, most born in Egypt, had planned a four day trip to Egypt which would have included visits to historic synangogues and lectures. Local media painted the event as a conference celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding and would call for the restoration of properties once owned by Jews in Egypt.
"Authorities contacted the organizers of the Israeli delegation and informed them that the event was canceled due to sensitivity of the current situation in the region," a security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Israeli press attache Shani Cooper-Zubida said that when the media storm broke the group had trouble finding accomodation in Cairo.
"Unfortunately they had to cancel the visit two days ago because they had a lot of difficulties arranging their stay here," she told The Associated Press. "After the negative publicity in the Egyptian media, they just couldn't (come)."
Egypt once boasted a vibrant and prosperous Jewish community of tens of thousands during the the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Most, however, emigrated to Israel and Europe, following the dramatic worsening of relations between Egypt and the Jewish state during the 1956 war between the two countries.
According to a report Friday on the Web site of Yedioth Aharanot newspaper, the Marriott Hotel in Cairo, where the delegation had originally booked their rooms, cancelled their reservations and said they could not accomodate them because of the situation.
Nadia al-Ansari, the Marriott's director of sales and marketing, would only say the delegation no longer planned to stay at their hotel.
"The only information we are actually giving out about this group is basically that it is no longer confirmed with us, they are not staying with us," she said.
Dr. Gabriel Rosenbaum, director of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo who was scheduled to give a lecture to the delegation, said the whole event was grossly misrepresented in the Egyptian media as a conference rather than just a visit.
"The average age of these people was between 70 and 80, not all of them in good health condition," he said. "Before they die, they just wanted to come see Egypt, to see the synagogues, to see maybe the tombs of their fathers and then go away."
He said that plenty of tourists, students and other delegations from Israel have visited Egypt and his center in the past without any incident.
Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement in 1979, but a steady campaign against the "normalization" of cultural and social relations by many intellectuals, journalists and others has prevented relations from warming.
The relationship's "constant ups and downs are mainly just in the press and sometimes with the authorities," said Rosenbaum, describing the current time as a low point with the press.