CAIRO: Egypt’s parliament is to probe and “hold accountable” anyone who intervened to allow foreign activists on trial to leave the country, the speaker of the house said on Saturday.
Saad Al-Katatni, the speaker of the People’s Assembly, said parliament would summon Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzoury 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,” Al-Katatni told a joint session of parliament and the senate. “This case cannot be ended with a political decision.”
“We will not allow anyone, regardless of who it is, to impact the sovereignty of this country and its institutions.”
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. The defendants have been charged in a criminal court, which could hand down jail sentences of up to five years.
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 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 Al-Katatni belongs, released a statement denying involvement in the case, after US Senator John McCain said the Islamists played “a constructive role.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the UN nuclear watchdog and an influential opposition activist, warned interference in the judiciary was a “fatal blow to democracy.”
He wrote on Twitter “now is the time for accountability and purging.”
Critics accused the generals, who have ruled the country since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, of bowing to American pressure while others say the domestic credibility of officials and the judges who have led the criminal investigation into pro-democracy non-profit groups was increasingly in doubt.
“It is within parliament’s role to stand up to this crime and to hold all those involved accountable, regardless of who they are and what their positions may be,” said Al-Katatni.
Along with the Americans who left Cairo were three Serbs, two Germans, one Norwegian and one Palestinian, Egypt’s official news agency said.
Airport sources said they left on a US plane sent to get them. The group later arrived in Cyprus, where they were met by US embassy staff.
Al-Katatni questioned how a US military plane had landed in Cairo’s airport before the ban was lifted and why the judge in the case had stepped aside just days before the decision.
A number of influential judges have slammed the decision, with the former head of the Alexandria Appeals Court, Ahmed Mekky, saying the decision highlighted “how the judiciary was not independent and subject to political pressure.”