Just two months following its establishment, the recently elected House of Representatives voted to expel, now former, MP Tawfik Okasha following a highly-publicised scandal and public outrage.
Despite an extremely successful electoral campaign in which he won more than 70,000 votes – making him one of the most popular parliamentary candidates in the recent elections – Okasha has lost public and parliamentary confidence.
Initially, the vote for his expulsion was not officially scheduled for Wednesday’s session, but the topic soon surmounted all others and resulted in permanently stripping Okasha of his membership.
A committee assigned earlier by Parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Aal to investigate Okasha presented its report and recommended that Okasha be banned from attending parliamentary sessions for one year. The formally stated reason was that the MP “illegitimately” met with the ambassador of a foreign country, thus inviting that country to interfere in national affairs.
Despite claims that Okasha was “framed”, no evidence of that has surfaced, so the parliament sought to follow procedures set by the internal regulatory chart.
Indeed, a political plot against Okasha may have been unnecessary; a quick look at his overall performance inside and outside the parliament suggests that the MP unwittingly “brought it all upon himself”.
Videos released by local journalists showed the nervous MP being prevented from entering the session that would decide his fate. Moreover, Okasha was seen practically begging for forgiveness as he watched the session unfold on a screen in the waiting area of the parliamentary hall, helplessly hearing the criticism unleashed against him.
The committee’s report indicated that Okasha “intends to raise controversies inside the parliament, and has repeatedly proved his recklessness and disrespect for parliamentary protocols, which he continues to do despite warnings and penalties”.
Okasha also made himself several enemies as a TV host. Among those insulted by Okasha were editor-in-chief of Al-Youm Al-Sabea Khaled Salah, and contributing businessman Ahmed Abo Hashima, as well as TV host Amr Adeeb. A few months ago, business tycoon Naguib Sawiris also publicly stated his opposition to Okasha.
This comes following previous statements by Okasha that Salah had been employed by intelligence services to manipulate public opinion, and that his colleagues were also elements of the state apparatus.
Last December, the Free Media Zone suspended Okasha from appearing on the channel, not for the first time in his career. However, this did not deter him from continuing to be outspoken and brash.
In his time as a TV presenter, Okasha criticised President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his policies, and boycotted the parliamentary session in which the president made a speech, claiming that “he has been oppressed and the president did not care”.
One of Okasha’s fiercest opponents, who mobilised the vote for his expulsion, is journalist and MP Mostafa Bakry. He also led a media campaign against Okasha, accused him of “treason”, and demanded his arrest.
The Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) denounced the MP’s hosting of Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Haim Koren, a meeting that saw disapproval from both the general public and the political elite, who rejected political and cultural normalisation with Israel.
Public outrage erupted after Okasha publicly stated that he invited the ambassador to his house, asked him to help Egypt with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis, and agreed with him on the construction of schools and other facilitates. This was exacerbated by Okasha stating that Egyptians were too “ignorant to understand what is good for them and for the country”.
“Mr Okasha broadcasts content that defames individuals and leaks information that violates the rights of others,” the ESDP said in a press release Saturday, suggesting that anger towards the MP has been mounting, due to his provocative attitude inside and outside the parliament.
The parliament’s investigative committee was headed by MP Hassan Bassiouny and included the memberships of head of the parliamentary committee of the Free Egyptians Party (FEP) Alaa Abed, independent MP and member of Egypt’s Support Margaret Azer, member of the Future of a Nation Party (FNP) Mohamed Al-Sallab, and three independent MPs Abullah Gamal, Tharwat Bekheit and Abdul Fattah Abdo.
After questioning Okasha and investigating his case, the committee found him guilty of several violations, including: disrespecting the principle of separation of state powers, as such meetings are to be organised by the executive authority, namely the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; conducting negotiations regarding the Renaissance Dam; and engaging in agreements and promises without being delegated or allowed by the parliament to do so, thus inviting a foreign country to interfere in internal affairs, which is viewed as a threat to national security.
Within minutes, Abdul Aal announced that the parliament rejects the committee’s penalty and, based on a request submitted to him by more than five MPs, a vote will be held to decide whether to strip Okasha of his parliamentary membership, as required by the internal chart.
The chairman of the non-governmental National Centre for Research and Consulting (NCRC), specialised in parliamentary affairs, Ramy Mohsen was present at the session. He said Abdul Aal violated the procedures to strip an MP of their membership, as stated by the internal regulatory chart.
“There cannot be a special committee assigned to look into the suspension of parliamentary membership,” he told Daily News Egypt. Mohsen explained that a special investigative committee could be formed within the non-completion of the election of internal committees inside the parliament. “However, the parliament should have waited for the formation of internal committees when it came to voting on the permanent suspension,” he stated.
MPs took their turn during the session to denounce the meeting with Koren, and demanded stricter penalisation, namely expelling Okasha from the parliament. Although a majority spoke against Okasha, including MP Khaled Youssef, a few members rejected his expulsion. MP Dina Abdul Aziz voted against the decision, stating during the session that it was Okasha’s “personal freedom” to meet whomever he wants.
Nonetheless, the investigative committee’s report refused to consider Okasha’s action under the pretext of “personal freedom”, stating that, as an official representative of the people, he should be more responsible and cautious in his duties.
Okasha was previously banned from attending 10 sessions following a dispute with Abdul Aal during a session. This escalated to a one-year session ban, before finally dropping his membership.
A long wait and one failed attempt preceded Egypt’s parliamentary elections, due to constitutional questions raised over political laws. This was followed by a pronged electoral process from October to December over three separate phases, each including runoff elections.
A fourth electoral phase is to be held in mid-April according the Supreme Electoral Commission, which called Saturday for elections to replace Okasha’s now-vacant parliament seat, in the constituency of Talkha in Daqahleya.
Since its election, parliament has been characterised by disorder and increasing disputes among its members and the parliamentary speaker. This resulted in MPs demanding that sessions be taken off air until the parliament is more stable.