Last week’s lifting of a travel ban on a handful of US nationals accused of carrying out unlicensed NGO activities – and their subsequent departure from the country – triggered sharp reactions from parliamentarians on Sunday. A large number of members of the People’s Assembly – the lower house of Egypt's parliament – used scheduled meetings of parliamentary committees to vent their anger at the lifting of the travel ban and for what they called "the double standards" inherent in US policy.
Their anger comes one day after a joint session of the two houses of parliament – the People's Assembly and Shura Council – that saw MPs line up to condemn both the US and the government of Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri over the abrupt departure of the indicted American activists.
"El-Ganzouri, along with a handful of government ministers, will be summoned to parliament on 11 March to face questioning over the issue,” said Parliamentary Speaker Saad El-Katatni. "Nobody is above suspicion until we get to the bottom of the case."
At a meeting of parliament’s defence and national security committee on Sunday, liberal MP Ziad Bahaaeddin went so far as to call for severing relations with the US. "Relations should be cut with any state that violates Egypt' dignity," asserted Bahaaeddin, who went on to charge the El-Ganzouri government with "grand treason" for "caving in to US pressure."
Bahaa Attia, member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), for his part, attacked what he called "the curse” of US financial and military assistance to Egypt. "We should dispense with this assistance,” which, he said, had become “like an addiction."
Adel El-Qala, member of the Arab Socialist Party, meanwhile, called for "putting an end to the import of American weapons." He went on to urge the country’s leaders to "diversify Egypt’s source of weapons as much as possible so as not to remain vulnerable to constant US pressure."
The meeting of parliament’s defence and national security committee also saw sharp attacks on the El-Ganzouri government for its perceived role in the foreigners’ release.
"Lifting the travel ban on the American activists was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Farid Ismail, deputy committee chairman and leading FJP member, said. “This government should be dismissed."
Ismail went on to say that a People’s Assembly’s plenary meeting slated for 11 March would be devoted to discussing the thorny issue and debating possible responses.
"Cabinet ministers whose work is related with NGO funding will be summoned, including International Cooperation Minister Fayza Aboul-Naga and Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid, both of whom will face questioning over the circumstances that led to the lifting of the travel ban on the [indicted] Americans,” said Ismail. "The aviation minister will also be summoned for rebuke for allowing a US airplane to land in Cairo International Airport – and then leave with the Americans onboard – without permission."
Ismail added that the committee’s report on the government's policy statement – delivered by El-Ganzouri on 26 February – would include a request for the release of Egyptian detainees in US prisons, including Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted in 1996 by an American court for his alleged role in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing in New York City. "These prisoners should be released at once," he said.
Ismail went on to complain of "the double standards” that characterise US foreign policy. “They want their citizens released while refusing to free Egyptians held in US prisons," he said.
The meeting also saw pointed attacks on Aboul-Naga, who, Ismail claimed, had overlooked the activities of foreign funded NGOs both before and after Egypt's revolution.
Aboul-Naga, for her part, at a meeting with members of parliament’s economic affairs committee on Sunday, insisted that she had no knowledge about the lifting of the travel ban. "I learned about it from the media, like any other ordinary citizen," she was quoted as saying.
Anwar Esmat El-Sadat, chairman of parliament's human rights committee and nephew of late president Anwar El-Sadat, for his part, called on Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s ruling military council, to dismiss Aboul-Naga.
"She [Aboul-Naga] helped create the NGO crisis and incite Egyptian public opinion against them [the foreign NGO workers] in order to appear like a hero and offset her long association with the Mubarak regime," Sadat wrote in a letter to Tantawi. "It would have been better to deal with this tricky situation diplomatically rather than in a way that led to the violation of Egypt’s dignity."
At a parallel meeting of parliament’s foreign relations committee, meanwhile, MPs requested a complete review of Egypt’s relations with both the US and Israel. Committee members also used the occasion to blast El-Ganzouri and his government.
"The prime minister told the People’s Assembly last week that Egypt would never bow to foreign pressure,” said Emad Gad, a liberal MP and Al-Ahram political analyst. “But the lifting of the travel ban on the American NGO workers last week showed everyone how susceptible the government is to American influence.”