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By Nicole Gaouette and Viola Gienger
Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. State Department said it wants Egypt’s government to clarify reports that 19 Americans are among 43 people to be prosecuted in Cairo in an investigation of non-governmental organizations.
“We are deeply concerned by these reports,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said yesterday in an e-mailed response to questions.
Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported earlier yesterday that the foreign workers are being charged with receiving illegal funding. The Washington-based National Democratic Institute said it learned “through judicial sources, media reports and its lawyer” that the case “has been referred to the Cairo Criminal Court for prosecution.”
The inquiry into the non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, whose stated aim is to promote democracy has added to strains between the U.S. and Egypt, and jeopardized American financial aid to the Egyptian military, a close ally.
Egyptian authorities have prevented Americans working for U.S.-funded NGOs, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, from leaving the country pending a decision on whether to put them on trial on grounds that they didn’t properly register with the government. Several of the democracy advocates have taken refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
‘Total Judicial Issue’
Egyptian authorities can’t intervene in the judicial branch’s inquiry, Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr said yesterday.
“These groups are under investigation by the judicial authorities,” Amr told delegates at a security summit in Munich. “Those groups are unregistered and from the view of the judiciary they were breaking the laws of Egypt. This is a total judicial issue. We cannot exercise influence on the judges.”
Investigators found out that large sums of money have been transferred to these organizations and provided to Egyptians “who used it to realize political goals,” Al Shorouk newspaper reported, citing judge Ashraf el-Ashmawy. “Investigations are still going on and more people will be referred to trial in the coming days,” the Cairo-based paper quoted him as saying.
Five Serbs, two Germans, three Arabs and 14 Egyptians are also reported to be facing charges, the National Democratic Institute said in an e-mailed statement. In a separate statement, the International Republican Institute, also a Washington-based group with staff in Egypt, called the reported prosecutions a “politically motivated effort to squash Egypt’s growing civil society, orchestrated through the courts, in part by Mubarak-era holdovers.”
A delegation of Egyptian generals is in Washington to discuss U.S. aid and security issues with military officials, lawmakers and the Obama administration.
The U.S. aid to Egypt, linked to the Camp David peace accord with Israel, is about $2 billion a year, according to the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress. Most of the aid goes to Egypt’s army.
President Barack Obama must certify to Congress that Egypt is making progress toward democracy in order for the aid to continue. On Feb. 2 and Feb. 3, the generals met with State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro.
The visits were part of a regular dialogue between the U.S. and Egypt on security assistance, Toner, the State Department spokesman, said Feb. 3. He said the travel ban and other issues related to NGOs were discussed. The Egyptian delegation also met last week with Defense Department officials and with members of Obama’s national security team.
–With assistance from Jonathan Tirone in Vienna and Mariam Fam in Cairo. Editors: Larry Liebert, Nancy Moran, Ben Holland, Louis Meixler.
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