In recent days, Egyptian politics have been roiled by a meeting between Egyptian MP and media figure Tawfiq Okasha and Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Haim Koren, as well as by reports of sports relations between the two countries. The controversy centers on the question of whether and to what degree Egypt ought to normalize relations with Israel.
A colorful figure, Okasha, owner of the Al-Faraeen TV satellite channel, is an expert at generating provocations that dominate news cycles. After being elected to parliament in late 2015, he announced that he would resign and leave the country because he was being targeted for arrest or assassination by Egyptian security forces. Then, after withdrawing this announcement, he ran for the post of parliament speaker, although he had no real chance of winning. He continued to make headlines after the new parliament convened: on one occasion he taped his mouth shut to protest allegedly being silenced during the parliamentary session.
Okasha has a fairly fixed political orientation. He is a staunch opponent of the January 25 revolution in Egypt and of the Arab Spring revolutions in general; in a forthcoming book, he depicts them as a product of a joint plan by the Zionists, Freemasons, and U.S. Christian right to destroy the Arab countries. In light of this view, it seemed even stranger that on February 25, 2016, it was reported that he had invited the Israeli ambassador to dinner. Explaining the invitation, he said that he wanted to clarify a number of points about his book, since he had heard that Amb. Koren is an academic. To those who objected to his meeting with Amb. Koren, Okasha said that if they opposed it so much, they should rescind the Camp David Accords.
Following the dinner, Okasha related what the two had discussed. He said that Amb. Koren had expressed a desire for good relations with the Egyptians, and that he had responded with a number of demands: Israel must resolve the issue of Ethiopia's construction of a new dam which Egypt fears will reduce the Nile waters reaching it; Israel must relinquish the damages awarded it by international arbitration after Egypt cancelled, in 2012, a natural gas contract; and Israel must pay damages for its air force's bombing of an Egyptian school in 1970.
Egyptian MP Tawfiq Okasha and Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Haim Koren (Image: rassd.com, February 25, 2016)
Okasha's meeting with the ambassador infuriated Egyptian opponents of normalization with Israel. In advance of the February 28, 2016 parliamentary session, some of Okasha's colleagues called for sanctions against him. The issue of the meeting was not at first set to come up for debate, so as not to embarrass the state which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel, but it was eventually put on the agenda. Knowing that he would face criticism, Okasha called on his supporters to protest outside the parliament. Inside the building, the debate on the meeting deteriorated to the point where the Nasserist MP Kamal Ahmad struck Okasha with his shoe. Several MPs demanded that Okasha be forced to resign from the parliament, and eventually it was decided that a special committee would investigate him about the meeting.
The committee concluded that by meeting with a foreign ambassador and discussing the Ethiopian dam with him without the executive branch's authorization, Okasha had broken the law and harmed Egypt's national security and the principle of separation of powers. The committee recommended excluding him from parliamentary debates until the end of the current session, a period of about nine months. However, the parliament rejected this recommendation and, following a stormy debate on March 2, 2016, decided to expel him from parliament altogether. The two-thirds majority required for this decision was easily obtained: 465 of the 490 MPs present supported it, with 16 opposing it and nine abstaining.
Okasha's meeting with Amb. Koren is not the only recent event that has returned the issue of normalization to the headlines in Egypt. In mid-February Egyptian Football Association spokesman Azmi Mujahid said on his talk show on Al-Assema TV that there is no reason why Egyptian teams should not play in Israel, and that Qatar is a greater enemy of Egypt than Israel is.
Additionally, on February 26, 2016, the Egyptian daily Al-Watan published documents that, it said, prove that the Egyptian Zamalek SC football team had acquired Zambian player Emmanuel Mayuka with the help of mediation by Israeli agent Nir Karin, who had been paid $300,000 in the deal. The daily published a contract with Karin's signature in Hebrew next to the signature of Zamalek SC chairman and Egyptian MP Mortada Mansour. While Mansour claimed that his signature was forged, the newspaper insisted that this was the contract that had been filed with FIFA.
Alongside the parliamentary protests and actions against Okasha, many journalists and public figures addressed the issue of normalization in the Egyptian press. Most of the articles condemned normalization, calling it morally reprehensible, evoking the memory of those killed in wars with Israel, claiming that Israel seeks to harm the Arab countries, and stressing that while the peace accords may be binding on the Egyptian state, they are not binding on the Egyptian people. Others wrote in favor of normalization, calling it a natural and useful collaboration to promote joint interests, and expressed regret that Egypt still apparently fears peace.
Following are excerpts from articles in the Egyptian press on the topic of normalizing relations with Israel:
Professor Of Talmudic Studies At Ain Shams University: Normalization Was Forced On Egypt Under The Peace Agreement, But Was Not Forced On The People; The Struggle Between Us And Israel Is An Existential One
In an interview with the daily Al-Watan, Leila Abu Al-Magd, a professor of Talmudic studies and Hebrew literature at Ain Shams University, told journalist Muhammad Al-Laithi,: "We have used the word normalization so much that it has become elastic and indefinable, and has thus lost its meaning. It is clear to all that as part of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, normalization was forced on the Egyptian state. Had we had control of our land, we never would have signed this agreement. Normalization was forced on the state - but it was not forced on the people, and they can support or oppose agreements signed by the president...
"Among those who maintain relationships with Israelis are businessmen who claim [in their own defense] that the state itself has a relationship with [Israel], so why shouldn't they be able to? These people are operating in pragmatic self-interest...
"I oppose any ties with the Israelis. For example, economic ties [with them] constitute support for the Israeli economy, thus extending the life of this country, which harms my own country. There is something selfish in the behavior of businessmen who maintain a relationship with the Zionist entity while looking out solely for their own interests. I do not agree to any ties with the Israelis, for several reasons...
"The struggle between us and Israel is an existential one... We and they can never live side by side as two peoples, because Israel's purpose is to destroy the Arab homeland. They started [this] by dividing Iraq, and this is clear from the Bible. [They do this] because of their desire to spread ruin and chaos, in accordance with their belief in the concept of 'tohu vavohu', which means 'chaos and void,' as is also shown in the book of Revelation and the Talmud. They speak of 'the chaos before Creation,' which they strive to attain by means of 'creative chaos' in the region, which will be followed by destruction. This will eliminate the other races, crown the strongest race - their own - and eventually lead to 'chaos and void'. This is their plot, which they are [now] completing, but its completion depends on us.
"If we wake up and defend [ourselves], we can thwart this plot. Otherwise, they will continue with it."
Journalist Muhammad Al-Laithi: Egypt's Younger Generation Is Unfamiliar With The Bloody History Of the Occupation State
Journalist Muhammad Al-Laithi, Al-Magd's interviewer, wrote in a separate piece: "The term 'normalization with Israel' has recently lost its meaning, with the appearance of a generation, some of which - mostly the young people - likely does not understand the bloody history of the occupation state. This is in addition to several examples [of people] who sparked a debate with their willingness to have a relationship with the Zionist entity, most recently MP Tawfiq Okasha, who hosted Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Haim Koren at his home. Another example are Zamalek SC's ties to an Israeli agent in the acquisition of Zambian player Emannuel Mayuka. These two events triggered widespread criticism of the MP and of the 'white' club [i.e. Zamalek SC].
"On the other hand, some of the supporters [of normalization] respond that 'the state signed a peace agreement, so why shouldn't we maintain a relationship [with Israel]?' Thus, 'normalization' has become a worn term with unclear boundaries. Technological advancement has also made espionage easier, in light of the appearance of social media websites, which are fertile ground for various intelligence apparatuses to gather information and recruit spies."
Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' Article: Unfortunately, Much Of The Egyptian People Are Captive To Okasha's Fantasies
In contrast to those who viewed Okasha's dinner with the Israeli ambassador and the subsequent fallout as just another chapter in the fight over normalization, Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' columnist Wael Al-Samri highlighted the affair's unique attributes: "Tawfiq Okasha... believes that American Masonic Zionism... was responsible for the January  revolution [in Egypt] and that it motivated hundreds of youths to come to Al-Tahrir Square. [In his view] the revolution was 'in the service of foreign interests' with close ties to Israeli intelligence, and in it hundreds of 'agents' were killed [i.e. the youth who were killed were really 'agents'], other 'agents' were imprisoned, and the sacred struggle against still more 'agents' continues in full force, to purge Egypt of this gang of 'agents.'
"Sadly, large sectors of Egyptians believe these fantasies, which have grown so much that those who peddle them have reached the most important circle of decision-makers in Egypt - that is, the parliament, which is rife with supporters of the Mubarak regime who attack the January Revolution and accuse Egypt's young people of treason...
"Some youth are even imprisoned - and Egyptian society is satisfied, at peace with and welcoming of this - because the Okashites have persuaded the Egyptians that [these youth] are 'traitors, agents, and mercenaries' and that they are taking orders from the U.S. Embassy and meeting at the Israeli Embassy.
"I am burning with the desire to hear the Okashites' thoughts on what their senior figure [Okasha] did a few days ago when he fell into the arms of the Israeli ambassador, talking with him for hours at his home as they 'ate, drank, and laughed.' If we were to believe that the January [Revolution] youth who are currently behind bars in dark prison are indeed agents in contact with Israel, as Okasha said, then what precisely is the definition of what Okasha [himself] did?"
Al-Masri Al-Yawm Owner: Why Do We Still Fear Peace With Israel?
Others criticized those who attacked Okasha when the regime itself, which they support, maintains ties with Israel.
Al-Masri Al-Yawm owner Salah Diab, who writes under the pen name "Newton," called the accusations levelled at Okasha "idiotic" and asked why Egyptians still fear the peace agreement with Israel: "Tawfiq Okasha's meeting with the Israeli ambassador is like a rock thrown into the murky waters of Egypt-Israel relations. Many decades have passed since the [signing of the] peace agreement, and we still avoid, or fear, the issue...
"Accusing Tawfiq Okasha of 'normalization' is a ready-made and idiotic accusation - much like other [widespread] accusations, such as 'relics' [of the Mubarak regime], 'agent of the security forces', 'capitalist', '[pro-]American'. But the oldest accusation is 'supports normalization.' This is an accusation that has lost none of its luster, despite 40 years of overuse - as if we have lost confidence in ourselves as a government and a people...
"The response by many MPs and journalists is identical to their response in similar incidents; the scenario recurs, and is both canned and extremely tedious. I often wonder: Why do we waste our time like this? What is all the fuss about? Is it to distract us from more important problems? Is it to distract public opinion? Are we really so angry over Okasha's meeting with the Israeli ambassador, when Al-Sisi previously accepted this ambassador's letter of credentials? Do we want Israel to continue to be the hook on which we hang our failure after all these years, and after all this experience, from war to peace? ...
"If we fear peace so much, then that is a disaster. And if we are using Okasha and his meeting [as a pretext] to avoid discussing more important matters, then it is even more disastrous."
Professor At American University In Cairo On Okasha Critics: The Height Of Political Prostitution
On his Facebook page, Ashraf Al-Sherif, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, argued that those who support the regime while attacking Okasha over normalization are hypocrites: "One of the most deplorable displays in Egypt is the artificial hubbub created by some elements in the Egyptian establishment because of the ties between a certain public figure and Israel. This is a cheap, comical vaudeville show, not a melodrama - because what Okasha or others have done is not treason but rather natural cooperation with a country that is an ally of the Egyptian 'Camp David' state, in the context of this state's agreements, interests, and ties of a security, strategic, economic, regional, and international nature.
"This is cooperation carried out by everyone in Egypt, from the president, the armed forces, the security and intelligence apparatuses, and the government and its bureaucracy to the public and private economic sector, and to the liberal and conservative cultural elites, with [just] a fringe of clich├®d rhetorical objection by middle class institutions and [professional] unions.
"If anyone in this play is stupid and a poor actor, it is the group of nationalist and Nasserist intellectuals and politicians who spit on a poor powerless author like [author and playwright] 'Ali Salem [a well-known supporter of normalization with Israel] or on someone like Tawfiq Okasha, a puppet-show clown and servant of the security apparatuses. At the same time, they are not only completely reconciled with the pillars, institutions, and policies of the Camp David state, they [even] justify it and enthusiastically propagandize for it... This is the height of political prostitution..."
 Rassd.com, December 26, 2015.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 10, 2016.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 13, 2016.
 Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), January 19, 2016.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), February 24, 2016.
 Rassd.com, February 25, 2016.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), February 27, 2016.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), February 28, 2016.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 29, 2016.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 17, 2016.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), February 26, 2016.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), February 29, 2016.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), February 27, 2016.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), February 27, 2016.
 Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), February 27, 2016.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 27, 2016.
 Facebook.com/profile.php?id=919538, February 28, 2016.