Monday, February 29, 2016

Egyptian MP hurls shoe at colleague for hosting Israeli envoy - Times of Israel Staff

by Times of Israel Staff

Legislators outraged after Tawfiq Okasha invited ambassador Haim Koren to his home for dinner last week

Egyptian television host and parliament member Tawfiq Okasha (YouTube screen capture)

An Egyptian lawmaker on Sunday struck a fellow parliamentarian with his shoe to protest the latter’s meeting last week with the Israeli ambassador to Cairo, Egypt’s state-run news agency said.

The MENA agency reported the parliament session was adjourned for 10 minutes as the two lawmakers were ejected. 

Tawfiq Okasha, a popular TV talk show host and parliament member, has been engulfed in controversy since Thursday when Israeli ambassador Haim Korem posted a picture on the embassy’s Facebook page of the two of them meeting the evening before.

Egypt has full diplomatic relations with Israel, but directly dealing with the Jewish state remains deeply taboo in Egyptian society.

Okasha’s meeting with Koren has been heavily discussed on public affairs shows, and MENA said the parliament on Sunday decided to form a special committee to investigate Okasha’s visit.

Okasha, who has been previously described by state-run media as “controversial,” publicly — during a broadcast — invited Haim Koren to his house for dinner. Koren agreed, and the two met Wednesday at Okasha’s home and discussed politics, trade and agricultural cooperation between the countries.

But shoe-thrower Kamel Ahmed was not the only legislator outraged by the consultation. During Sunday’s session, one MP called the initiative “political prostitution,” while another hundred members of the legislature called for an emergency session to discuss the meeting.

Okasha, Ahmed said, “deserves 90 million shoes,” according to a translation of his remarks by the Hebrew-language Ynet news website. “I want to shoot him. What I did reflects the nation’s opinion. I did what I did because I am an MP and a representative of the people. Every time I see him, I’ll hit him with a shoe.”

Defending his move, Okasha said he extended the invitation to Koren in hopes of recruiting Israel as a mediator in Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over the latter’s Grand Renaissance Dam, a project Cairo fears will limit its share of Nile River water, the Egyptian Independent reported.

He cited the 1979 peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt, and expressed hope Israel could play a constructive role in settling the ongoing dispute, the report said.

While his move elicited harsh criticism from some MPs, other lawmakers slammed Ahmed for the assault.

The speaker of parliament, Ali Abdel Aal, reprimanded Ahmed for his attack, calling it “inappropriate” behavior and then suspending Sunday’s session. MPs Mortada Mansour and Alaa Abdul Moneim demanded the assembly take disciplinary action against Ahmed, with Moneim calling for his parliament membership to be revoked.

Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi became president of Egypt in July 2013.

Israel's ambassador to Egypt, Haim Koren, presents his credentials to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Ssisi in Cairo, September 14, 2014 (photo credit: courtesy)
Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, Haim Koren, presents his credentials to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Ssisi in Cairo, September 14, 2014 (photo credit: courtesy)

In the unrest that followed the ouster of the previous president, Mohammed Morsi, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo. However, it began building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the relative calm. In September 2015, Israel reopened its embassy in Egypt after being shuttered for four years.

Last week, Egypt’s new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, hailed the increased bilateral relations, expressing hope that the two countries’ “constructive” relationship would bring peace to the region.

Khairat is Cairo’s first senior emissary to Israel since 2012.

AP contributed to this report

Times of Israel Staff


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