Cairo: Claims that some Egyptian lawmakers sold free visas for the annual Muslim Haj pilgrimage in return for large sums of money have triggered anger in the mostly Muslim country and prompted calls for parliamentary investigations.
The purported sale riveted public attention after an owner of a travel firm, organising Haj trips to Saudi Arabia, claimed that he had bought visas from four members of the parliament for 50,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh10,373) per visa.
“I have documents that confirm this incident. I’ll present these documents to the prosecutor-general,” the company’s owner Emad Al Deen Hussain told an Egyptian television station. Hussain said he is also ready to present a copy of the documents to the parliament when it opens a probe into the alleged scam.
Other Haj firms have claimed they bought similar visas for as much as 95,000 Egyptian pounds per visa.
The visas were offered as gifts by the Saudi embassy in Egypt to the parliament that reportedly handed them to its members with the aim of giving them away to people in their constituencies, who cannot afford their fees.
Unconfirmed media reports said that some lawmakers were able to obtain more than two such visas allocated to each of them in the run-up to this year’s Haj season that ended early this month in Saudi Arabia.
Mustafa Bakri, a prominent pro-government lawmaker, said that Hussain had told him he has “complete proof” of the lawmakers’ alleged involvement in selling visas. “In view of the seriousness of this information and its impact on the reputation of the parliament, I request the head of the parliament to open an urgent probe,” Bakri said in a statement.
“The assembly is one of state institutions engaged in fighting corruption and issuing legislation. There must be a strong stance as this case represents a serious form of corruption,” added Bakri, who said he has presented a request for initiating the inquiry.
There has been no comment from the parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Aal since the case came to the fore this week.
However, some parliamentarians have joined the call for an investigation.
“This is unethical. The whole truth should be disclosed,” said MP Atef Abdul Jawad in an online comment. “Either we monitor and expose corruption or there are among us some who are not qualified for this patriotic mission,” he added.
“May God support President [Abdul Fatah] Al Sissi.”
Since he took office in 2014, Al Sissi has unleashed an anti-corruption clampdown.
If convicted in the scam, the four lawmakers, whose names were not disclosed for legal reasons, can face penalties ranging from reproach, ban on attending some parliamentary sessions to expulsion from the legislature.
In 2005, a then parliamentarian was stripped of membership after he was found guilty of selling one Haj visa he had obtained for free.
The Haj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Muslims are expected to perform it at least once in their lives if they can afford it and are physically able.
An estimated 90,000 people performed this year’s Haj from Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country of around 95 million.