JERUSALEM—An Egyptian lawmaker who upset his colleagues and much of the Egyptian public by inviting the Israeli ambassador in Cairo to dinner at his home last week was struck Sunday in Egypt’s parliament by a fellow parliamentarian with his shoe, an insult in Arab culture.
The shoe thrower, Kamel Ahmed, said that his target, Tawfik Okasha, "deserves 90 million shoes. I want to shoot him. What I did reflects the nation’s opinion. Every time I see him I will hit him with a shoe."
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Unfazed, Okasha, who co-hosts a popular talk show, said he will continue to meet with Israeli Ambassador Haim Koren.
The parliament speaker, Ali Abadel Aal, reprimanded Ahmed for his attack, calling it "inappropriate behavior" and suspended the session.
The shoe-as-insult became familiar to the West after President George W. Bush had two shoes thrown at him in Baghdad during a press conference in 2008 by an Iraqi journalist who was hustled out of the room, barefoot, by security guards. The president deftly ducked both shoes.
Although Ahmed was criticized for his action by some parliamentarians he had clear support on the substance of his protest from many others. One lawmaker called the invitation to dinner "political prostitution". The Egyptian parliament decided to set up a special committee to investigate Okasha’s invitation. There have been calls for his dismissal from parliament.
Holding his ground, Okasha noted that there has been a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel since 1979. He said he had invited Ambassador Koren in the hope of recruiting him to serve as a mediator in the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over a large dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River which Cairo fears will reduce the amount of water reaching Egypt, a critical issue. Despite the formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, and the not inconsiderable informal relations between security and other officials on the two sides, the Egyptian government has traditionally preferred to maintain a low profile on the subject, given the public’s hostility to Israel, mainly because of the Palestinian issue.
The Israeli embassy ran a picture on its Facebook page over the weekend showing Koren and Okasha at the latter’s home where they had a three-hour meeting that included dinner.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel Ten Sunday, Ambassador Koren said he meets regularly with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and members of his government. "Both countries have a shared interest in fighting terror organizations like the Islamic State and Hamas."
He told the interviewer that bilateral meetings between officials will continue despite the scuffle in parliament. "I can say that relations with Egypt are very good," he said.