Egyptian delegation snubs US Senators amid NGO scandal

Egyptian soldiers stand guard in front of the US National Democratic Institute, an NGO (non-governmental) rights group in downtown Cairo  (AFP Photo / Filippo Monteforte)
An Egyptian military delegation has abruptly canceled meetings with their US counterparts, marking a sharp escalation in US-Egypt tensions. The move may jeopardize US$1.5 billion in aid Egypt is set to receive from US this year.

Nineteen Americans are due to stand trial in Egypt as the country’s military rulers accuse US-backed organizations of funding protests. They are among the 43 accused in this case. A date has yet to be set for the start of the trial.

Egyptian military officials who were scheduled to meet with US Senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin on Tuesday were reportedly recalled to Egypt, according to Reuters. This comes following Hillary Clinton’s warning that a crackdown by Egypt's military rulers on US and local pro-democracy groups could put aid for the Arab nation at risk.

Clinton said the US has worked very hard to put in place financial assistance and other support for the economic and political reforms in Egypt. However, under the current circumstances the aid will have to be reviewed.

"Problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt,” she said. The US Secretary of State spoke to the media in Munich, where she met Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on the sidelines of an international security conference.

Egyptian military government accused 43 employees of non-profit groups of illegally using foreign funds to instigate unrest in the country. If convicted of the charges, they will face from three to seven years behind bars. All 43 have been barred from leaving Egypt.

Among the Americans is Sam LaHood, the head of the Egypt office of the Washington-based International Republican Institute and the son of the US Transportation Secretary. Five Serbs, two Germans and three non-Egyptian Arab nationals were also targeted.

International Cooperation Minister Faiza Aboul Naga is leading the crackdown. The investigation into the funding issue, she claimed, has uncovered "plots aimed at striking at Egypt's stability."

Hafez Abu-Seada, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, says military rulers wanted non-profit groups to be involved in charity issues, not human rights or democracy, which they considered "political activity, which is banned in Egypt."

Earlier in October, the continuing violent crackdown by security forces against the protests has left 17 dead and more than 700 injured one month alone. Egypt’s military became increasingly fearful of foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs. Following the clashes, Egypt’s justice minister commissioned two judges to investigate allegations of foreign funding. The minister said that any ‎organization found guilty of the practice would be charged with ‎‎“betraying Egypt by deliberately promoting political strife.”‎ In December police in Cairo raided 17 civil society organizations in a bid to find out exactly who has been funding the protest.

­RT’s Maria Finoshina has gone to Egypt to learn why the NGO scandal has become a sufficient cause for Cairo to spoil relations with a valuable friend, Washington.