Politico Looks at the Reaction of Congress to the Raids on NGOs in Egypt

Lawmakers: U.S. aid to Egypt at risk
By John Bresnahan

A bipartisan group of more than 40 House lawmakers are warning top Obama administration and Egyptian officials they’ll oppose U.S. aid to Egypt unless a standoff over nongovernmental organizations is resolved quickly.

This comes as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the State, Foreign Operations panel of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, cautioned that the NGO controversy has put the Egyptian government at risk of losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid conditioned upon the country moving toward democratic governance.

Egyptian security raided 17 NGO offices on Dec. 29, seizing computers and other records and shutting down the organizations’ offices. The groups targeted included the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, all of which receive millions of dollars in federal funding annually and have strong ties to members of Congress and powerful figures in the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

A number of Americans working for the organizations, including Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, have also been prevented from leaving Egypt. They have sought protection inside the U.S. embassy in Cairo as an investigation into foreign influence on recent Egyptian parliamentary elections continues.

The “no fly” order for the younger LaHood and other Americans has infuriated lawmakers and members of the Obama administration, who have repeatedly warned their Egyptian counterparts that it could led to a serious upheaval in U.S.-Egyptian relations.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dated Thursday and made public Friday, 41 House members — led by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — said “the absence of a quick and satisfactory resolution of this issue will make it difficult for congressional supporters of strong U.S.-Egypt relationship to defend current levels of assistance to Egypt – especially in this climate of budget cuts in Washington.”

The lawmakers added: “Therefore, we hope that Egyptian authorities will immediately allow these offices to reopen, return all confiscated property, end the investigations into these organizations and other civil society groups and allow NGOs to carry out their activities in an unfettered matter.”

A similar letter was sent to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council that has ruled Egypt since the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime President Hosni Mubarak last year.

In floor comments Thursday, Leahy — author of a provision in last year’s funding bill that conditioned U.S. military aid to Egypt on its transition to democracy — warned that Egypt may fail to comply with that provision because of the NGO raid.

“Despite repeated assurances from Egyptian authorities that the property seized from these organizations would be promptly returned, that has not happened,” Leahy said. “To the contrary, the situation has gotten worse as several of their American employees have been ordered to remain in Egypt.

“Some of them have obtained protection at the U.S. Embassy. With each passing day there are growing concerns that these groups could face criminal charges for operating in the country without permission,” the senator added. “If the assault against international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations continues, several of the requirements for certification could not be met.”

The United States provided Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid last year. Clinton will have to certify that the Egyptian government has met the U.S. condition to get more military support.

The United States also provided Egypt with another $250 million in economic aid.

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