Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s recent visit to Yerushalayim triggered an angry backlash at home where Israel is still regarded by most people as an enemy.
Shoukry’s trip, the first such by a senior Egyptian official in a decade, was aimed at reviving the peace process and at the same time building on already improved relations with Israel since President al-Sisi took power.
Reaction was marked by grumbling in the local media, as well as an Israeli-flag burning, though no large protests.
However, on Thursday the Egyptian government felt compelled to issue a denial that Shoukry and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had watched the Euro 2016 soccer final together in Yerushalayim after the premier posted a photo of the two of them on social media.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry explained that Shoukry had merely stumbled into the room where the game was being broadcast during a brief visit at the prime minister’s residence.
“Netanyahu brought a cameraman to record everything that was happening,” a spokesperson maintained. “The Egyptian foreign minister doesn’t watch soccer games during a formal and important visit such as this.”
This did not jibe with Netanyahu’s version, which said that “he [Shoukry] arrived today for a visit to Israel. When our meeting ended, we had time to watch the Euro 2016 final.”
The incident resulted in a torrent of criticism in Egyptian media.
“I would understand if our foreign minister would watch a game … with an Arab official, who is a friend… But not an Israeli official,” Imad ad-Din Hussein, an editor from the Egyptian in the daily newspaper al-Shorouk, wrote.
This “dastardly” regime “is the main reason for most disasters in Egypt,” he added.