The scandal behind the Egyptian MP who ‘normalized with Israel’
Out of a total of 596 members of Egypt’s House of Representatives, 408 voted to revoke the membership of MP Tawfik Okasha
Out of a total of 596 members of Egypt’s House of Representatives, 408 voted to revoke the membership of MP Tawfik Okasha after he invited Israel’s ambassador to Cairo, Haim Koren, to his house last week. The committee formed to investigate the incident issued a report accusing Okasha of violating parliamentary rules by taking a unilateral decision to meet the ambassador of a foreign country.
The report focused on Okasha’s announcement that he and Koren discussed strategic issues such Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam. “We know that sovereign state authorities are heavily involved in conducting negotiations on this issue," said the report. "Egypt’s position in these negotiations could be negatively affected by Okasha discussing such a sensitive issue with a foreign ambassador."
The report added that the Foreign Ministry is the only entity officially authorized to meet and negotiate with members of diplomatic missions in Egypt. While Okasha’s expulsion was concordant with the general disposition of an Egyptian public that does not support normalization with Israel, a debate about whether he has committed an offense seemed inevitable.
Despite the overwhelming majority that voted to strip him of his membership, several MPs objected. Emad Gad, also an analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Okasha broke no law when he received the Israeli ambassador at his house.
“The Israeli ambassador is in Egypt based on a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and he presented his diplomatic credentials to the Egyptian president, so there is nothing illegal about the meeting,” he said, adding that general hostility toward normalization with Israel is a different matter.
“Egypt is supposed to be a state of law, so only the law can determine whether an action is right or wrong.” Gad objected to claims that Okasha embarrassed parliament when he met Koren: “It was after all a personal, not official meeting.”
MP Samir Ghattas objected to the constitutional basis upon which Okasha was expelled. His “expulsion was based on Article 110 of the constitution, which is too broad, and its use now sets an alarming precedent,” he said. According to Article 110, an MP “can be expelled if he/she loses the confidence and esteem of fellow parliamentarians, ceased to meet any of his/her parliamentary obligations, or violated the duties of office.”
Ghattas said this step tarnished the image of parliament, which “expelled Okasha for political and not legal reasons, and he was not even given a chance to defend himself.” Ghattas added that this gave Israel and Western powers a perfect opportunity to say Egypt’s parliament is against peace.
MPs who voted for Okasha’s expulsion saw in his invitation to the Israeli ambassador a form of treason. “Okasha has disgraced Egypt and the parliament, and betrayed all Egyptian martyrs killed by Israeli forces,” said MP Moustafa Bakri. “How can he possibly face members of his constituency who trusted him? How can he speak on their behalf after what he did? Expelling him is the duty of every honorable Egyptian.”
MP Khaled Youssef, a prominent filmmaker, said Okasha disrespected the 40-year-old popular stance against normalization with Israel. “Okasha is, in fact, the first MP since the 1979 peace treaty to meet an Israeli official, not even during [President Hosni] Mubarak’s era when Egypt was totally subordinate to the United States and Israel,” he said. “This shows how abnormal his action is.” Youssef said parliament represents the people, and the people reject normalization.
MP Ahmed Argawi said it was impossible to consider the meeting between Okasha and Koren a personal matter: “The ambassador accepted the invitation extended to him by an MP, not an average citizen. This means he knew the significance of meeting with someone who represents the Egyptian people.”
MP Kamal Ahmed went as far as smacking Okasha with his shoe, saying: “This is the entire nation’s response to what he did.”
Constitutional expert Nour Farahat scoffed at claims that Okasha’s dinner with the ambassador was a step toward normalization. “I am asking the MPs who rallied against Okasha if they can revise the peace treaty with Israel, which demilitarized most of Sinai and stripped Egypt of full sovereignty over the peninsula,” he wrote. “I am also wondering if MPs are aware of the dozens of commercial, agricultural, and industrial agreements Egypt has with Israel. Can they revise those as well?”
Tarel al-Awadi, lawyer and director of the Center for the Support of the Rule of Law, said Okasha’s case might be a good opportunity to reopen the normalization file. “Thanks to Okasha, Egyptians are now reviving their support for the Palestinian cause, which they seem to have sidelined for a long time, especially in light of increasing domestic problems,” he said.
Journalist Abdallah al-Sinnawi said Okasha’s stance on Israel was not new: “Okasha made no secret of his good relations with Israel, and he said before that he visited Israel three times and that he has many friends in Tel Aviv. So why is he being punished for it now?”
Journalist Ashraf Shaaban asked the same question, wondering why Okasha was punished for a stance that is no different to that of Egypt’s government. “On the same day Okasha met with the Israeli ambassador, the new Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv, the first in three years, presented his credentials to the Israeli president,” Shaaban said, adding that this was seen by analysts as an improvement in bilateral relations.
“Meanwhile, the Israeli ambassador to Cairo had made earlier statements that cooperation between the two countries does not stop at security issues, and will be extended to other fields, and he specifically mentioned relations with Egyptian businessmen.”