CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday threw its weight behind the country’s military-backed government in an escalating dispute with the U.S. over the funding of pro-democracy groups.
Cairo claims that the groups are fomenting protests against the country’s military rulers, and has referred 16 Americans and 27 others to criminal court. Six Americans are barred from leaving the country.
The dispute has shaken relations between the two countries, with U.S. officials and legislators threatening to cut aid to Egypt — $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic assistance — if the issue is not resolved.
On Wednesday, the Brotherhood — whose political arm controls the largest bloc of seats in Egypt’s parliament — praised officials carrying out the crackdown and said it supported their “nationalist position.”
The Brotherhood said it “rejects all forms of pressure the U.S. is exerting,” the statement published on the group’s website said.
The statement said the group “declares that it, and the Egyptian people, will not tolerate any officials if they decide to succumb to the pressure or cover up the accusations or interfere in the business of the judiciary.”
Egypt’s ruling military council has repeatedly alluded to plots by foreign powers throughout the last year. Critics see the allegations as an attempt by the army to deflect attention from what they regard as a botched transition to democracy. The strongly-worded statement by the Brothers appears to be an attempt to outbid the military position.
The statement comes a day after the state media published the four-month old testimony of the Cabinet minister in charge of international cooperation in which she lashed out at the mainly U.S. groups.
Minister Faiza Aboul Naga, a leftover from deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, accused them of using the foreign funds to foment pro-democracy protests against the country’s military rulers, who took over after Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising a year ago.
The foreign funding affair has also been interpreted by many among Egypt’s pro-democracy groups as part of a larger plan to neutralize rights groups and other civil society organization, who have long challenged Mubarak and continue to challenge what they say are grave rights violations by the military rulers.
Investigative judges have said a second phase of the probe is looking into Egyptian groups receiving foreign funds.
The Brotherhood, itself an unregistered group, had previously backed the military’s investigation of pro-democracy and human rights groups.
“Civil groups are as much a thorn in the side of any religious group,” as they are of an authoritarian regime, said Negad Borai, a human rights lawyer.
The Brotherhood’s political party swept recent elections, taking nearly 50 percent of the seats in the new parliament. Liberal and secular activists who led last year’s popular uprising that toppled Mubarak failed to win significant strength in the parliament, and they are suspicious of the Brotherhood, suspecting that the veteran Islamist movement is working with the military to divvy up power while excluding the more secular forces.
The military generals said they will transfer power to a civilian by end of June, while a constitution will be written by a committee nominated by a Brotherhood-dominated parliament.
As the transition period nears an end, many suspect the Brotherhood, although it has until now sought to appease the military rulers, will start playing hardball to wrest as much power as possible from the powerful military rulers.
The group’s deputy chairman Khairat el-Shater told Al-Jazeera television that U.S. aid should not be conditional and should continue to flow as a “compensation” for years of supporting Mubarak’s autocratic regime.