American democracy workers have been searched and detained in Egypt. Although the charges focus on the workers’ alleged failure to submit proper paperwork to the newly formed Egyptian government, some members of that government have suggested that the administrative failures amount to spying or aiding violent protests. The White House is taking these charges seriously, and has threatened to cut off billions of dollars in aid.
The Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) receive funding from groups including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and others; the Egyptian military government charges allege that the funds weren’t properly reported to them; the paperwork wasn’t filled out.
Egyptian authorities say the NGOs broke the law by accepting foreign funds without government approval. In a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr stated that all groups, regardless of country of origin, have to abide by Egypt’s laws on registering.
The charges amount to non-cooperation with the military government and “running organizations without getting the required licenses.” One of the Egyptian judges involved in the matter said that investigations were continuing with Egyptians in other similar cases.
There may be some justification for strong words from Washington. Some members of the newly elected Egyptian government are rhetoricallly accusing the pro-democracy workers of “aiding violent protests”. Sobhy Saleh, whose Freedom and Justice Party is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, 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 al-Nour Party, said that on the strength of documents found during the investigation the Americans “may be considered spies.”
The raids and arrests of the nineteen Americans and about twenty one foreign and Egyptian activists’ were made last year, as Egyptian police and prosecutors searched 17 offices; the issue began to trake on greater import and came to a head last month when some of the U.S. citizens sought refuge in the American Embassy in Cairo.The cases have been referred to the Egyptian criminal court system
Charles Dunne, Middle East director of Freedom House, says he loves Egypt, where he has lived for years as a political-military officer in the U.S. Embassy. At the time of his being interviewed, Dunne said he had not been notified of any charges; he indicated that the required registration papers were filed just days before the offices were raided. The offices of other human rights and democracy groups were also raided at the same time. Dunne, shaken by the experience said, “The work that we are trying to do in Egypt is to help them do what they say they want to do, which is have a democratic transition to a civilian government and the Egyptian military is doing everything they can to shut that off and shut that down.”
In a press briefing on Monday White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “We have said clearly that these actions could have consequences for our relationship, including regarding our assistance programs.” These assistance programs are no small matter, amounting to about $1.3 billion USD in military aid annually. Carney said, “The United States is deeply disturbed by the Egyptian crackdown on pro-democracy non-governmental groups.”
The Egyptian authorities defended their actions, insisting that no violations of laws occurred in these investigations.
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