MP’s ouster shows normalisation with Israel still a minefield in Egypt

Friday 11/03/2016
A January 2016 file picture shows Tawfik Okasha protesting against not being given the floor during a parliamentary session.

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.