Ex-Egyptian envoy denies spy remarks

Former ambassador to Israel says reports that he worked for Egypt intelligence untrue, libelous.

Former Egyptian ambassador to Israel Mohammed Bassiouny categorically denied on Wednesday all reports in the media that he had worked for Egyptian intelligence during his stint as ambassador. In an interview with Arabic-language newspaper Panorama, Bassyouni called the reports "libel" and said they had "no connection with reality and are not correct." The former ambassador also denied having said that former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser's brother-in-law, Ashraf Marwan, had also served as a spy during the 1970s. Bassiouny was quoted as saying that he had been sent to Israel as an intelligence officer. The quotes reportedly came from a speech Bassyouni gave Saturday at the national library in Alexandria. "There is no such thing as friendship [with the Israelis]...Besides, I was sent there as an intelligence officer and not because of my character. Do you really think that I worked there as an ambassador?" the former ambassador, who was recalled by Egypt a short while after the outbreak of the second Intifada, reportedly said. The reports said Bassiouny had denied having Israeli friends and that he described his memories there as "bitter." Nevertheless, the reports said, he singled out Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiya Yosef as someone who was his friend. He reportedly recounted how on one occasion, when he brought Yosef to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Mubarak said, "You, Bassiouny, bring me strange people." Bassiouny allegedly refused to describe Israel as a democracy, citing its poor treatment of Israeli Arabs. "There is no such thing really as Israeli society, but it is a collection of immigrants from different countries in the world," he was quoted as saying. Several Egyptian newspapers quoted Bassiouny as stating further that in the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union, some 40 nuclear scientists had arrived in Israel. He reportedly described them as "dangerous" and claimed that they had the potential of aiding the development of Israel's nuclear capability. However, the papers reported, he said Israel had failed in its absorption efforts. He pointed out that the man who swept his street in Herzliya had been an astronomy professor in the former Soviet Union. The reports included comments that no one from the Sephardic sector would ever be elected prime minister, and that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz were both bad candidates for the Kadima leadership. He supposedly referred to former prime minister Ariel Sharon a "sleeping corpse," saying Sharon's cells were dead and that he was alive only because he was attached to machines and because the rabbis refused to disconnect him. In response to the reports, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said in a statement that "if these things were said, they do not deserve a response. Still, we are disappointed by Mr. Bassiouny's treatment of a state and society that accepted him and his family with open arms, from a personal perspective and as representatives of the first Arab country to sign a peace accord with Israel." Levy went on to say that Bassiouny's comments, if he did in fact say them, "more than saying anything about Israel, say quite a lot about Mr. Bassiouny himself."