Samer al-Atrush, AFP
Last updated: 3 March, 2012

Egypt MPs to probe allowing foreign activists leave

Egypt’s parliament is to probe and “hold accountable” anyone who intervened to allow foreign activists on trial to leave the country, the house speaker said Saturday, as a new trial date was set for the defendants..

Saad al-Katatni said parliament would summon Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri on March 11 to explain the decision and “hold accountable those responsible for this crime, which represented a blatant intervention in the affairs of Egypt’s judiciary.”

After months of pressure from Washington, 13 of the foreign defendants including six Americans, according to the US State Department, were allowed to fly out of Cairo airport on Thursday after posting bail, sparking outrage in Egypt.

The travel ban was lifted after the trial judges recused themselves on Tuesday. A new court will hear the case on March 8, the official MENA news agency reported.

“We cannot accept any type of foreign intervention in Egypt’s affairs,” Katatni, an Islamist, told a joint session of parliament and the senate. “This case cannot be ended with a political decision.”

On Friday, Washington said it still wanted the case dismissed.

“We will continue to work with the Egyptian government to see if we can get this case dismissed, not only for our people but also for the Egyptians, because we think this case was unwarranted from the beginning,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The trial, in which the activists were accused of receiving illicit foreign funds to operate unlicensed NGOs, caused a crisis in relations between the United States and its close Middle Eastern ally.

Washington had suggested the trial could imperil its more than one billion dollars in annual aid to Egypt, much if it funnelled to the ruling military which took power after an uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak a year ago.

Egyptian authorities had insisted they could not intervene in judicial affairs, but the trial, which opened last Sunday, began to unravel as the judges stepped aside and a travel ban on the defendants was lifted.

The foreigners were rushed through Cairo airport on to a private plane after having each posted bail of two million pounds (around $330,000 or 247,000 euros).

The official Al-Ahram newspaper said the judges recused themselves after they were requested to lift the travel ban, outraging Egyptians across the political spectrum at alleged political interference.

The Muslim Brotherhood, to whose FJP party Katatni belongs, released a statement denying involvement in the case, after US Senator John McCain said the Islamists played “a constructive role.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief and influential Egyptian dissident, wrote on Twitter “now is the time for accountability and purging.”

The defendants have been charged in a criminal court, which could hand down jail sentences of up to five years.