New York Times: Evidence Against Pro-Democracy NGOs Shows Leaps of Logic

Dossier Details Egypt’s Case Against Democracy Groups
The New York Times
By Rod Nordland and David D. Kirkpatrick

CAIRO — The Egyptian prosecution’s summary of the case against at least 16 Americans and others from five democracy and human rights groups focuses largely on the testimony of their accusers, with evidence primarily limited to proof that their organizations used American and other foreign funds on payrolls and rent.

The prosecution’s dossier also shows leaps of logic in a case that has imperiled a decades-long alliance with Washington and threatened Egypt with the loss of $1.5 billion in aid. The case, for example, cites documents seized in December from one group, the International Republican Institute, that included Wikipedia maps of Egypt showing the country divided into four parts. While Egypt is typically described as comprising four regions — upper and lower Egypt, greater Cairo and the Suez Canal and Sinai region — the prosecution suggested the maps showed a plan to dismember the country.

The summary, compiled by the Office of the Investigating Judge of Egypt’s Ministry of Justice, sets the stage for the group trial, scheduled to begin Sunday. A copy was given to The New York Times by a person close to the investigation on condition of anonymity because of legal restrictions.

The primary force behind the prosecution is a holdover from the Mubarak regime, Fayza Abul Naga, who has continued to press the case against the democracy groups, despite opposition from military rulers worried about losing American aid, most of which goes to the armed forces here. She is foremost among the 13 accusing witnesses, most of whom are also former Mubarak officials. Some are underlings of Ms. Abul Naga, who as minister of planning and international cooperation is in charge of dealing with foreign aid.

Ms. Abul Naga’s central accusation is that the groups were unregistered under Egyptian law, and that the American groups were receiving some $150 million in aid diverted from the larger American aid package to Egypt. They are the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute — both of which have ties to congressional party leaders — Freedom House, and The United States International Center for Journalists. The fifth group, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, is German, and receives funding from that government.

More than 40 defendants have been indicted on charges of illegal activity by foreign agents, and face penalties of up to five years in jail. Three of the six accused Americans still in Egypt have taken refuge in the American Embassy, including Sam Lahood of the Republican Institute. He is the son of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood.

Democratization has been a goal of the Obama administration in Egypt, and the case against the Americans has infuriated many in Congress and the administration.

Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the board of the International Republican Institute, arrived Monday in Cairo, where he met with the military leader, Field Marshall Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and other officials and came away with assurances of a speedy resolution to the case. “We’re not making threats,” Senator McCain said. “There’s plenty of time to make threats.”

Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who was also part of the McCain delegation, was harshly critical of the case. “As an American I’m offended that people would say things about these organizations,” he said, calling the charges “ridiculous.”

“The person who brought this forward I think has an agenda that’s not helpful,” he said.

Ms. Abul Naga’s testimony, bolstered by the other witnesses, details the activities of the groups, mostly training political parties in how to organize, fund-raise, deal with the media and the like, but also ranges into far broader accusations of illicit activity.

The prosecution’s dossier reiterated their accusations that the groups “worked in coordination with the C.I.A.,” served “U.S. and Israeli interests,” and incited “religious tensions between Muslims and Copts.” Their goal, according to the testimony in the dossier: “Bringing down the ruling regime in Egypt, no matter what it is,” while “pandering to the U.S. Congress, Jewish lobbyists and American public opinion.”

Ms. Abul Naga is quoted as saying, “Conducting such activities is a blatant challenge to Egyptian sovereignty and serves ulterior motives that gravely harm Egypt and its national security.” She describes the Republican Institute as “far-right leaning” and Freedom House as “founded by the Jewish lobbyists.” She refers to the groups as having fomented insurgencies elsewhere, saying at one point that their activities “cannot be viewed in isolation from the secession of Christian south Sudan from the predominantly Muslim North.”

Despite Ms. Abul Naga’s association with the ousted government, her charges and the legal case generally have struck a responsive chord among many elements on the new Egyptian political scene. Al Azhar, the leading Sunni Islam institute in Egypt, and a fundamentalist Salafist sheikh, Mohammad Hassan, formed a group with the goal of raising up to $2 billion to replace any lost American aid. Three days ago, the military-appointed Egyptian cabinet voted to support the initiative, the Fund for Dignity and Pride, and many prominent Egyptians have pledged support. The fund has so far raised $10 million.

In addition to the Americans who are charged, defendants include 14 Egyptians, 3 Serbs, 2 Lebanese, 2 Germans, a Palestinian, a Jordanian and a Norwegian, according to the state-owned newspaper, Al Ahram. Varying semi-official accounts have put the number of Americans charged from 16 to 20.

Some of the accused have remained in Egypt voluntarily; Nancy Okail, an Egyptian citizen with British residency who is the head of Freedom House here, was abroad when she learned of the charges against her (via Twitter, she said), but she chose to return with her 3-year-old twin daughters.

“We know that legally they don’t have anything against us, but this is about the xenophobia that they have been instigating for months and months now to show there is a foreign plot to ruin the country,” Ms. Okail said. “I don’t know who’ s instigating it, if it’s Fayza Abul Naga or she’s just a front for someone else.”

Ms. Abul Naga was not immediately available for comment, according to her media coordinator, an Egyptian Army general, Bahgat el-Shirbini.

Rod Nordland reported from Cairo and David. D. Kirkpatrick from Beirut. Mayy El-Sheikh and Liam Stack contributed reporting from Cairo.

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