Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Egyptian judicial authorities responsible for investigating nonprofit groups on accusations they illegally used foreign funds to incite unrest in the country have announced the names of 43 defendants who will be tried by the Cairo Criminal Court. The charges listed against the NGO workers, including 19 US nationals, include running an unlicensed organization and illegally receiving funds from abroad.
A judicial source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that investigations had obtained “compelling” evidence against the defendants, including against Sam LaHood, Director of the International Republic Institute [IRI] in Egypt and son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The source stressed that the Egyptian investigation into the NGO workers case is operating independently and is not subject to any political pressure, including from Egyptian Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid.
The Egyptian justice minister had returned a letter last week from US Ambassador to Egypt asking him to re-examine the issue of the US citizens who were barred from leaving the country pending the investigation which has now seen charges leveled against them.
Egyptian security forces raided 17 officers of 10 pro-democracy and human rights groups last month. Egyptian authorities defended the raids as being part of ongoing investigations into the finances and operations of foreign funded-groups.
Washington, which provides $1.3 billion in military aid annually to Egypt, has strongly criticized the crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which has taken place under the army-backed government.
Before the decision was taken to refer the NGOs cases to court, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned that bilateral relations between Cairo and Washington could be harmed if Egypt did not move to resolve the issue.
Clinton, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an international security conference in Munich where she met Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel told reporters that “we are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt. We do not want that.”
Counsellor Sameh Abu Zeid, who is one of the investigators involved in this case, revealed that investigations into Egyptian citizens and foreign nationals, as well as Egyptian and foreign organizations operating in the country, are ongoing. He stressed that the investigation file is still open, and that a travel ban has been issued against all those involved.
For her part, US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, stressed that the Obama administration is continuing to pressure Egypt to release the 19 US citizens facing trial. Rice told the “CBS This Morning” show that the US citizens involved in the dispute had been working to build a more democratic society in Egypt and that they “have done absolutely nothing wrong.” She added Washington has constantly been talking with Cairo about this issue, including “in the last days and hours”. She stressed that the situation “has serious consequences for our bilateral relationship.”
Whilst White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said “we’re deeply disturbed by the crackdown against NGOs in Egypt, including the filing of charges against Americans. Groups like the International Republic Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and many others, both Americans and Egyptian, have done nothing wrong. Their only assignment is to support Egypt in its transition to democracy.”
He added “These groups and individuals associated with them do not fund political parties or individual candidates. Many of these groups have worked in Egypt for several years, and so their activities are not new. Moreover, they also served as observers for the recent parliamentary elections at the request of the government of Egypt. We continue to communicate at all levels with the Egyptian government on our grave concerns regarding the crackdown against NGOs in Egypt. We have underscored how serious a problem these actions are. We have said clearly that these actions could have consequences for our relationship including regarding our assistance programs.”
As for whether this could trigger Washington to cut-off the estimated $1.3 billion of US aid that Egypt receives annually, Carney said “We’ve made it clear that we take this very seriously, that it could have consequences – these actions could have consequences for our relationship, including our assistance programs.”
The Human Rights Watch [HRW] organization issued a statement yesterday calling on the Egyptian authorities to drop all charges against the defendants and stop the criminal investigation. HRW deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork, issued a statement saying “the Egyptian authorities are using a discredited Mubarak-era law to prosecute nongovernmental groups while proposing even more restrictive legislation.” He added “the government should stop using the old law, halt the criminal investigations, and propose a law that respects international standards.”
Whilst the IRI also issued a statement describing Cairo’s decision to start prosecution procedures against the NGO as being a “political motivated assault which “reflects escalating attacks against international and Egyptian democracy organizations”.