Egypt's longest-serving envoy to Israel dies

Mohammed Bassiouni passes away in his home at age 74, Egyptian media reports; was ambassador to Tel Aviv from 1986 until 2000.

By OREN KESSLER
September 18, 2011 19:38
2 minute read.
Former Egyptian Ambassador Mohammed Bassiouny

bassiounny 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

Mohammed Bassiouni, Egypt's longest-serving ambassador to Israel, died Sunday in Cairo.

The diplomat's son told Egypt's official MENA news agency that his father had suffered from diabetes and hypertension, but had led an active life almost until the end.

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Bassiouni joined the Egyptian army in 1950, soon earning a commission as an intelligence officer. In 1973 he was appointed Egypt's military attache to Syria, where he played a key role in executing the two countries' joint offensive against Israel in that year's Yom Kippur War (the last of four conflicts in which he fought against the Jewish state). He subsequently served as military attache in the Shah's Iran.

In 1982 Bassiouni arrived at the Tel Aviv embassy as deputy ambassador, after Cairo pulled its envoy to protest the First Lebanon War. He would ultimately serve as ambassador from 1986 to 2000, longer than Egypt's three other envoys to Israel combined.

Bassiouni was unusual among Egyptian diplomats in becoming a fixture in the Israeli social scene. His tenure in Tel Aviv included a sex scandal, after he was accused by an Israeli belly dancer of sexual harassment. The charges were later dropped under pressure from Israel's Foreign Ministry.

In 2008 Egyptian media quoted Bassiouni as saying his ambassadorship was merely a cover for intelligence work, and lamenting his memories from Israel as "bitter."

Bassiouni firmly denied having made the comments.

"Why do you seek enemies where you don't have any?" he told Zvi Bar'el of Haaretz at the time. "To this day my friends call me on my birthday and I call them. One must understand the difference between work on the official and professional level and the personal and social level. On the professional level there are no friendships. Every ambassador works to promote his country's interests."

Bassiouni was recalled to Cairo in 2000 to protest Israel's crackdown on Palestinians during the second intifada.

Returning home, he was appointed deputy head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Shura Council (the country's upper house of parliament), and was regarded as one of Egypt's leading experts on Israel.

"We made peace with a right-wing party, with Menachem Begin," he told Haaretz in 2008. "We believed then and we believe now that peace can be made only with a strong leader."

A military funeral is planned for Monday in the Cairo district of Nasr City.


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