Decision to lift NGO suspect travel ban made only by judiciary, paper says

Egypt’s decision to lift the travel ban on the foreign defendants in the NGO funding case was purely a judicial issue without any interference from the cabinet, a government official told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat Monday.

The official said the government sought to use the case to negotiate a better deal with the US in which Washington would amend its aid terms and conditions.

Six of the Americans accused in the case left Egypt Thursday after authorities lifted the travel ban against them.

The decision caused public uproar against Egypt’s military rulers, who were accused of bowing to US pressure.

The probe began in December, when armed security forces raided the offices of 10 nonprofit groups, shuttering their offices after carting off files and computers.

Later, 43 were put before a court on charges of receiving illegal funds to cause unrest in the country shaken by the political turmoil that brought down US ally and former President Hosni Mubarak.

On Sunday, the crises escalated after People’s Assembly Speaker Saad al-Katatny said Parliament would summon officials to explain the decision and “hold accountable those responsible for this crime, which represented a blatant intervention in the affairs of Egypt’s judiciary.”

Several parliamentary committees criticized the government, led by Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abouelnaga, who attended the Economic Affairs Committee’s session Sunday after banning media from attending.

Asharq al-Awsat quoted the Egyptian official, who was identified as familiar with the case, as saying Egypt managed the crisis very poorly and that the decision to lift the travel ban was made without consulting the concerned authorities.

The official went on to say Egypt managed the crisis in the same way the Mubarak regime handled political crises — without any transparency.

“If no deal has been made, then this matter is both disastrous and absurd,” the official said.

The official said the government was aware the crisis “would end with the travel of the foreign defendants,” pointing out that the government was seeking to make a “national deal” that should have included a prisoner swap and amendments in the US aid terms.

“It is not plausible that the deal would only concern the bail money,” he said.

Judicial sources said the defendants paid bail of nearly LE2 million (US$330,000) each to be allowed to travel out of the country.

“It is not shameful to announce that a deal was made. … That’s politics,” said the official. “In the end, wars are resolved at the negotiating table, but the price must be reasonable.”

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