Bassiouni - AP - 19092011
Bassiouni: A social ambassador Photo by AP
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Former Egyptian ambassador to Israel Mohammed Bassiouni, 74, died on Sunday in his Cairo home from an illness. He was buried last night in Cairo.

Bassiouni was one of the best known foreign ambassadors here, not only because of his lengthy stint in Tel Aviv, but because he was very involved in the Israeli social scene and was open with the local media.

After returning to Egypt, he held senior positions in the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt's parliament. He was also a sought-after commentator on Israeli affairs in the Egyptian and general Arab press.

Bassiouni was drafted into the Egyptian Army during the 1950s and rose through the ranks, serving primarily in military intelligence and reaching the rank of brigadier general.

In 1973, he was military attache to the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus, and played a central role in coordinating the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack that launched the Yom Kippur War. In 1976 he was moved to Iran, where he served as military attache to the embassy there.

In 1980, after the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Bassiouni was appointed deputy chief of mission at the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv, serving as the embassy's top official when Egypt recalled its ambassador in 1982, to protest the Lebanon War. He was officially appointed ambassador in 1986 and served in that post until recalled in 2000 to protest Israel's responses to the second intifada.

Bassiouni was well-connected to both the Jewish and Arab social scenes in Israel. Toward the end of his tenure, however, he was embroiled in a scandal when a local belly dancer accused him of sexual harassment. He denied the allegations and the case against him was dropped, because he held a diplomatic passport and because of Foreign Ministry pressure.

In 2008, Bassiouni gave an interview to Haaretz reporter Zvi Bar'el, and denied Israeli reports that he had been posted to Israel as an undercover intelligence officer.

"From 1980, when I was appointed to the post in Israel, I had no connection with any Egyptian intelligence official. I answered only to the Foreign Ministry," he said.

He acknowledged that he retained many of his Israeli social connections.

"I had, and I still have, numerous social connections in Israel," he told Bar'el. "To this day, my friends call me on my birthday, and I call them. But one must understand the difference between the job at a professional, official level and the social, personal level. On the professional level, there are no friendships. Every ambassador works to advance his country's interests."

Despite his parliamentary positions over the past decade, Bassiouni was not a member of the top decision-making echelons.

His oldest son, Dr. Hatam Bassiouni, said on Sunday that though his father had suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, and had undergone open heart surgery a few months ago, he was active until his last day.