An Egyptian parliament member’s dinner with the Israeli ambassador has angered many in the legislature, with members calling for an emergency meeting to discuss his conduct, Israel’s Army Radio reported Thursday night.
MP Tawfik Okasha, who is also a television host and was described by the state-run al-Ahram daily as “controversial,” publicly — during a broadcast — invited Ambassador Haim Koren to his house for dinner.
The ambassador was reportedly surprised by the invite from a member of the Egyptian parliament, which, as a rule, shuns meetings with Israeli diplomats. But he happily obliged, and the two met on Tuesday at Okasha’s home, discussing issues of politics, trade and agricultural cooperation between the countries. According to Army Radio, the two agreed to meet again.
“We gladly welcome any meeting with Egyptian officials who want dialogue with us on issues of culture, communications, economics, society and politics,” Koren told the radio station.
But other legislators were outraged by the consultation, which one MP called “political prostitution.” One hundred members of the legislature have called for an emergency session to discuss the meeting.
MP Mostafa Bakry called Okasha’s actions “unforgivable treason” and a “shame,” according to al-Ahram.
On Thursday, 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. The Egyptian Embassy is in Tel Aviv.
“He told me that he is very happy and very proud to be in Israel and that he hopes that his presence here will bring about a situation in which the friendship between the Jewish people and the Arab people in general, and between the countries of the region, will be such that we can live in peace,” Rivlin told reporters after Khairat left the president’s residence.
Cairo’s last ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, arrived in Tel Aviv in October 2012. Salem was recalled soon after in the wake of an Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense.
Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took power.
The Israeli Embassy in Cairo was ransacked by an angry mob in September 2011. Some embassy staff returned to Cairo in 2012 and began working from an unofficial location.
In the unrest that followed the ouster of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo. However, it has begun 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 four years during which it was shut.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.