Presidential hopefuls slam decision to lift travel ban off NGO suspects

Ahram Online, Friday 2 Mar 2012

The travel ban on foreigners working in the NGO case was suddenly pried off, leaving Egyptians - including politicians eyeing presidency - asking whatever happened to sovereignty and what is Egypt getting out of the deal?

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Mohammad Salim Al-Awa, Hamdin Sabbahi (Photo: AP)

Presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail slammed Egypt’s decision to release the foreign suspects implicated in the NGO case. In the high-profile case, foreigners accused of working in Egypt under unlicensed NGO's and receiving illegal foreign funds for illicit purposes were banned from leaving the country, which was suddenly reversed yesterday and the foreign nationals promptly left the country.

“Did you see how terribly the situation has deteriorated to the extent that they allowed the US suspects to escape, despite the will of the Egyptian people?” Abu Ismail retorted in a statement released at dawn on Friday.

Abu Ismail then went on to criticise how the US handled the crisis and the statements released by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton days prior to the release of the American staffers, in which she accurately predicted that the situation will be resolved in the "very near future."

“Look at how they organised the whole issue," said Abu Ismail, pointedly. "It started with Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State announcing that the situation will be solved, which meant that she knew exactly what was going to happen," he stressed.

The statements, Ismail said, were followed by three shocking events. The first was the fact that the three judges presiding the cases decided to recuse themselves, citing "reasons of discomfort." This, outlines Abu Ismail, was followed by a decision to lift the travel ban that forbade the suspects from leaving the country and, thirdly, the announcement that the case will proceed, but with new judges.

"However, the biggest surprise is that the judges who previously presided over the case postponed the trial to the end of April," Abu Ismail said. The high-profile case is guaranteed to draw out in court, and with that in mind Abu Ismail argues "There is no way that the case will conclude before the presidential elections or before the end of the Egyptian judicial year [both occur in June]."

Hamdeen Sabahi, another presidential hopeful, who heads the Nasserist-leaning Al-Karama Party, has also weighed in on the issue on his Twitter account, calling the decision a "crime against Egyptian dignity and sovereignty. The interference in judicial rulings violates the cornerstone of a democracy."

Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League, who is set to vie for the presidential seat, also questioned the validity of the decision to free the American suspects.

"Confusion, uncertainty and poor administration is clear in the Egyptian handling of the foreign funding case and the crisis with the US government," Moussa wrote on Twitter. "It is obvious that political pressure was used and that some form of interference was used to force the judges to step down from the case. What exactly happened? The people have a right to know."

Islamist presidential candidate Mohamed Selim El-Awa stressed that the Egyptian authorities need to clarify the reasons behind the decision to release the American suspects.

Speaking at a conference to a large, local audience in the city of Fayed in the governorate of Ismailiya, El-Awa said that Egyptians need to know what price Egypt paid to release these suspects.

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