Egyptian lawmakers are to probe the release of 15 foreign NGO workers who had been banned from leaving the country pending charges of illegally accepting foreign money.
Egypt's top parliamentarian on Saturday decried the release of foreign pro-democracy activists as "flagrant interference" into the independent judiciary, vowing to "hold accountable" anyone who intervened on their behalf.
"We do not accept any form of foreign interference in Egypt's internal affairs, under any justification," said Saad al-Katatni, speaker of the lower house of parliament and a leading official in the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. "We will not allow anyone, regardless of who it is, to impact the sovereignty of this country and its institutions."
The 15 foreign nationals were among a group of 43 non-governmental organization (NGO) workers in Egypt accused of illegally receiving foreign funds. The foreigners - eight Americans, three Serbs, two Germans, one Norwegian and one Palestinian - were permitted to leave the country on Thursday after being stuck there for more than a month.
Politicians, judges and prosecutors have swapped accusations of bowing to foreign pressure, and no one has accepted responsibility for the foreigners' release. Katatni said during a parliamentary session on Saturday that he would summon Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri and other top officials to explain the decision on March 11.
"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," Katatni said. "This was a flagrant interference into the judiciary's work."
US officials had been working behind the scenes to allow the foreigners to leave Egypt, as the case highlighted strains between Egypt and the West since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.
"We have all been focused over these past few weeks on the NGO issue, and it is a matter of serious continuing concern for the United States," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement on Saturday. "But it is also important to underscore that the United States remains committed to a strong bilateral relationship with Egypt."
Meanwhile Egyptian lawmakers held a heated debate on Saturday about who should be chosen for a panel tasked with drafting a new constitution. Islamists, who make up roughly three quarters of parliament, have sought to appoint mostly elected parliamentarians to the 100-person panel, while liberals, concerned with rising Islamist influence, want outside experts and activists to have a greater say.
Katatni said the constitutional panel should not be written by "the majority," but rather through "consensus and partnership."
acb/sjt (Reuters, AFP, AP)