New York Times: NGO Workers in Egypt Seek Refuge in U.S. Embassy Amid Politically Charged Investigation

U.S. Embassy in Cairo Shields 3 Americans Amid an Inquiry
The New York Times
By David D. Kirkpatrick

CAIRO — The United States Embassy in Cairo is giving shelter to three American citizens to protect them from potential arrest by the Egyptian authorities in a politically charged investigation of four American-backed nongovernmental organizations operating here, colleagues said Monday.

The decision to give the individuals shelter indicates a new low in the relations between Cairo and Washington, which recently threatened to stop its $1.3 billion in annual aid to the Egyptian military if it failed to take steps toward a democratic transition, including respecting such nongovernmental groups.

Word of the embassy’s decision came as Egypt’s ruling military council began taking steps to address the fraying relations by sending a delegation of officers to the United States for meetings this week with their military counterparts, legislators and other officials. The delegation was in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, visiting the Central Command headquarters.

Officials at the American Embassy declined to comment on the decision to shelter the Americans, first reported Monday in The Washington Post. The report followed the disclosure last week that the Egyptian government had barred at least six American employees of the groups from leaving the country.

Those six work for the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, two democracy-building groups with close ties to United States Congressional leaders. The groups are under a criminal investigation by the Egyptian authorities over allegations that they violated rules on foreign funding.

It was unclear how many of the Americans had sought refuge in the embassy. One source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there were three, all from the International Republican Institute, who had become concerned because of news reports that the investigation was nearly completed and that they might be arrested. It was also unclear what would happen if the Egyptian authorities pressed charges, since the sheltered Americans do not have diplomatic immunity.

The dispute over the activity of the groups and the status of their employees comes as American officials stepped up their public calls for the military council to hand over power to civilians as soon as possible, as it had promised when it took over with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year.

The military-led interim government, meanwhile, has often suggested that the United States was financing nonprofit groups that it alleged were behind protests meant to destabilize Egypt or bring down the state. Generals on the ruling military council have said the investigation of the American-backed nonprofit groups will shed light on the origins of those protests.

The military council responded over the weekend to the reports that three top Washington lobbyists representing Egypt had resigned Friday over the crackdown on the democracy-building groups. On Sunday, the military-led government said that the lobbyists had not quit but were let go as a cost-cutting measure.

In a possible sign of a shift in the military council’s thinking, however, Egyptian state media reported over the weekend that Egypt’s military rulers had asked a panel of advisers for suggestions about handing over power to civilians earlier than the scheduled deadline at the end of June.

Reporting was contributed by Mayy El Sheikh from Cairo, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.

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