MP’s ouster shows normalisation with Israel still a minefield in Egypt
Cairo - The Egyptian parliament, by an overwhelming margin, revoked the membership of an MP after he met with the Israeli ambassador in Cairo.
Tawfik Okasha, the principal presenter on television channel Al-Faraeen and a former diehard supporter of former president Hosni Mubarak who shifted loyalty only one hour after Mubarak’s ouster in 2011, caused controversy when he invited Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Haim Koren to dinner at his house.
A few hours after the February 23rd meeting, the event was fodder for the country’s media and politicians.
“This man has humiliated the Egyptian people who totally reject the normalisation of relations with Israel,” said Moustafa Bakry, a fellow legislator. “He met the ambassador in the name of the parliament, giving the wrong impression that this parliament backs him in his drive.”
Another legislator, Kamal Ahmed, threw a shoe at Okasha in parliament on February 28th. Other MPs, praising the attack, suggested that Ahmed’s shoe should be exhibited at a museum attached to the parliament building showcasing relics related to the history of the legislature.
Three days after the shoe-throwing incident, 465 deputies — more than two-thirds of the members — voted to deprive Okasha of his seat.
On the streets, Egyptians expressed similar contempt.
“We hate Israel because of the atrocities it commits against the Palestinians,” Mohamed Abdo, a day labourer in his early 50s, said. “Before this, Israel killed Egyptian soldiers in 1948 and in Sinai in 1967.”
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel after fighting four wars against the country. Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who signed the treaty, paid with his life for signing the deal. He was assassinated in October 1981.
“Israel will be Egyptians’ No. 1 enemy forever,” Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor from Cairo University, said. “Egyptians will continue to remember their compatriots killed by Israel in the repeated wars it waged against Egypt.”
Okasha said he met the Israeli diplomat only after “taking permission”, probably from Egypt’s security agencies. Mustafa al-Fiqqi, former aide to Mubarak, said Okasha could never have met Koren without getting such approval.
Legal expert Qadri Hefni said the minutes of the inquiry conducted by a special parliament committee on the meeting with the Israeli ambassador did not refer to the meeting or normalisation of relations with Israel.
“It only referred to accusations brought up against Okasha of offending parliament,” Hefni said. “This means that at the official level, his expulsion has nothing to do with Israel.”
Okasha had turned into a thorn in the side of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his chief of staff, Abbas Kamel, a former army general, Okasha accused of manipulating the intelligence services and the country’s political life.
Okasha lobbied for Sisi before he became president and against the Muslim Brotherhood. He organised rallies in support of the army and against the Brotherhood.
Okasha sought to become the speaker of the new parliament but the pro-Sisi For the Love of Egypt coalition, which controls the legislature, did not back him.