U.S. vows to cut $1.5B in aid to Egypt over trials
By Oren Dorell
CAIRO – Members of Egypt’s newly elected government refused to back off Monday from charges that 19 Americans and several other foreigners are aiding violent protests and will be tried.
Meanwhile, the United States on Monday threatened to cut off $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt for what it called an illegitimate crackdown on foreign groups known as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promote democracy.
“Whoever is operating legally should be fine,” said Sobhy Saleh, whose Freedom and Justice Party is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which recently won the majority of seats in the Egyptian parliament. “Whether they are Islamic or not, any NGO should follow the law.”
Saleh said Egypt will not accept any violations of Egyptian law or interference of Egypt sovereignty. Hisham Abo Alnasr, a member of the high council of Egypt’s hard-line al-Nour Party, said that based on documents found during the investigation the Americans “may be considered spies.”
Egypt doesn’t need democracy training from foreigners, Alnasr said. He said the country needs training in literacy, science and health care to help it develop economically.
Among the Americans is Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Sam LaHood and five other Americans are in Egypt while the others have left.
Altogether, 43 people face trials over illegally operating in Egypt and receiving funds from abroad without permission from Egyptian authorities for their human rights and pro-democracy efforts. Egypt charges that they fund and support anti-government protests. The groups deny that.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday that the United States is extending an invitation to all who are affected by the charges to seek protection at the embassy in Cairo “to give them some time to consider their options with their lawyers.” She did not say how many activists are at the embassy.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has warned that the situation could jeopardize U.S. aid to Egypt. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the Americans have been working to build a more democratic society in Egypt and “have done absolutely nothing wrong.”
Protesters have continued to appear in the Egyptian streets to oppose the Islamist parties that won the elections and to demand that the ruling military council speed up transfer of power to civilians.
The military took power after the resignation a year ago of dictator Hosni Mubarak, who is on trial on charges of corruption and in connection with attacks on protesters.
The U.S. groups, such as the International Republican Institute, have said they have been helping Egyptian pro-democracy groups adopt modern methods for their causes and have taken no sides in Egyptian politics. Sam LaHood was working for IRI, which says it was operating openly.
“It is a politically motivated effort to squash Egypt’s growing civil society groups, orchestrated through the courts, in part by Mubarak-era holdovers,” the IRI said.
Only foreign aid groups that have helped the more liberal Egyptian parties have been targeted, according to the groups.
Retired Egyptian army major general Mohamed Kadry Said, a member of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the NGOs had provided Egypt with important services, but “this process should be correct, and that is why this crisis happened between these groups and the Egyptian government. Egyptians don’t want interference by foreign governments.”
The foreign groups have said that they provide training on how to turn ideas into a message, and teach citizens how to present a platform. They also have provided election monitoring services with the knowledge of Egyptian government for years and do not give money to any individuals or groups.
Among those targeted is the National Democratic Institute, which works in more than 50 countries, including 12 countries in the Middle East. NDI, IRI and Freedom House all provide seminars to anyone working toward democracy, providing the knowledge and skills to participate in their own political systems, NDI says.
Among the people referred by Egypt’s Justice Ministry for prosecution are two American and two Egyptian employees of the International Center for Journalists of Washington, D.C.
In Egypt, the organization was working to improve citizen journalism by teaching people how to cover news events fairly, President Joyce Barnathan said.
The two American staffers, Natasha Tynes and Patrick Butler, are currently in the USA, Barnathan said.
“All we were doing was promoting good journalism,” Barnathan said.