Egypt’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to expel Tawfik Okasha from the legislature for the apparently unforgivable sin of inviting the Israeli ambassador in Cairo for dinner. The picture of him meeting with the ambassador took that opposition into a full rage. Now remember that Egypt has full diplomatic relations with Israel, but Okasha’s merely having dinner with the ambassador resulted in a vote of 465 out of 490 legislators supporting this expulsion.
The bizarre actions of the parliament shows the irrational level of hatred in Egypt toward Israel and the lack of protections for free speech or association in the country. I am not ignoring the strong opposition to Israel or the view of many in country that Israel is denying basic human rights of Palestinians. However, this is still a country with which there are official diplomatic relations and a legislator should have the liberty of speaking with diplomats. Indeed, Okasha could have been trying to influence the ambassador or to establish a better understanding between the countries.
Okasha is a television presenter who has been controversial in the past. A former member of Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, Okasha was ridiculed for his support for Egypt’s military rulers and even supported the Israeli army’s operations in Gaza and has called on its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Iran. Yet, he was exercising free speech in taking those positions — just as he was practicing free speech and association in meeting with the ambassador.
The actions of the parliament are only the latest example of how Egypt is losing core values of free speech and civil liberties.