Cairo: A massive uproar over a decision by the upcoming Cairo Film Festival to honour Claude Lelouch has prompted the veteran French director to cancel a plan to come to the Egyptian capital, head of the prestigious festival Mohammad Hefzy has said.

Several members of the Egyptian cinema community and intellectuals have sharply criticised Lelouch, accusing him of being loyal to Israel, which he visited several times.

“Lelouch has said he will not attend his honouring by the festival after he learnt of the uproar about him in Egypt,” Hefzy added.

Hefzy defended the controversial decision of the event’s organisers to invite Lelouch to receive the top Faten Hamama Prize for his lifetime achievement.

“It was a right choice. We invited him and it was not before long that he said he would come because he loves Egypt. Lelouch is a cinema landmark and one of the most important directors in the world,” he told private television DMC late Wednesday. “But after the controversy heated up, he backed off in order to prevent further furore.”

Lelouch, 80, is regarded as one of the pioneers of the new wave in the French cinema. His 1966 “A Man and A Woman” won the Palme d’Or Prize at Cannes and the Oscar for the best foreign language film.

Hefzy said that Lelouch has no “hostile” stance against Arabs or the Palestinian cause.

“The Cairo Festival has nothing to do with politics. We are interested in cinema in the first place.”

Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, but its professional unions continue to ban links with Israel, or its backers.

Critics of the festival, which debuted in 1976, accused the organisers of violating the ban by inviting Lelouch for next month’s edition.

“The festival’s officials insist on honouring this director, who loves the Zionist entity [Israel] in a violation and defiance of the Federation of the Artistic Unions’ unanimous decision that rejects all forms of normalisation with the Zionist enemy,” a group of filmmakers and writers said in a recent statement.

Hefzy hit back at the critics, accusing them of having ulterior motives.

“Some of those who launched the campaign against honouring Lelouch did this to serve their own interests, not out of patriotism,” he said without elaborating.

The Cairo Film Festival is due to open on November 20. Russia is the guest honour of the nine-day event