Booted Egypt lawmaker apologizes for hosting Israeli envoy
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Booted Egypt lawmaker apologizes for hosting Israeli envoy

MP Tawfiq Okasha, who was kicked out of parliament after meeting ambassador Haim Koren at his home, says he was acting ‘in good faith’

MP Tawfik Okasha (left) is prevented from entering the Egyptian parliamentary chamber on March 2, 2016 (AlMasry AlYoum screenshot)
MP Tawfik Okasha (left) is prevented from entering the Egyptian parliamentary chamber on March 2, 2016 (AlMasry AlYoum screenshot)

Egyptian MP Tawfik Okasha, who hosted the Israeli ambassador for dinner at his home last week, expressed regret over the invite Thursday, a day after parliament voted overwhelmingly to revoke his membership.

In a video broadcast on a prominent Egyptian television channel, Okasha said he wished to apologize to his fellow members of parliament for hosting the ambassador, and said he had only meant to “act in good faith,” the Walla news site reported.

Okasha, a popular TV talk show host, has been engulfed in controversy since last Thursday, when Israeli ambassador Haim Koren posted a picture on the embassy’s Facebook page of the two of them meeting the evening before for dinner at the MP’s home.

Okasha also talked about the meeting in an interview in the Al-Masry Al-Youm daily, saying the two agreed Israel “has a key role in the issue of the dam” being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile.

The parliament’s official website said 465 deputies — or more than two-thirds of its members — voted to deprive Okasha of his seat on Wednesday.

“The penalty is not over his meeting with the ambassador of a foreign country, but because of the issues discussed during this meeting, in relation to Egypt’s national security,” it said.

The issue of the Ethiopian dam is seen in Cairo as a matter of national security. “He has failed in his duties by inviting a foreign state to interfere to solve the issue of the dam,” deputy Khaled Youssef told AFP.

Egyptian TV showed footage of Okasha being barred from the parliamentary chamber, with security staffers closing the door in his face.

The vote came three days after a heavily publicized incident in which a lawmaker hit Okasha with his shoe to protest the meeting.

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

The Speaker of the House Ali Abdel-Al, however, said that the Egyptian Parliament would continue to respect all its international treaties and agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel.

In an Arabic-language video posted Wednesday morning to Israel’s official diplomatic page to Egypt, “Israel in Egypt,” Koren acknowledged that his meeting with Okasha had “sparked debate and controversy within Egypt.”

Nevertheless, Koren said he would meet with any Egyptian citizen who wanted to set up a meeting with the Israeli embassy.

The ambassador added that he’d had a number of successful meetings with Egyptian journalists.

Egypt's new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, February 25, 2016 (Mark Neiman/GPO)
Egypt’s new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, February 25, 2016 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Last Thursday in Jerusalem, Egypt’s new ambassador to Israel hailed bilateral relations, expressing hope that the two countries’ “constructive” relationship would bring peace to the region. Hazem Khairat handed his diplomatic credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, officially becoming Cairo’s first senior emissary to Israel since 2012.

AFP and AP contributed to this report.

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