US Releases Egypt Aid, NGO Trial to Resume April 10
March 29, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly
On March 22, United States (US) Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the release of USD $1.3 billion in military aid and USD $200 in economic aid to Egypt despite the country’s failure to meet democratic criteria. Although US Department of State Spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated that "the United States is committed to supporting the transition to democracy in Egypt," critics claim that ignoring the recent crackdown on and current trial of pro-democracy non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sends mixed signals to the Egyptian government.
US Congress voted on December 26, 2011, to restrict funds distributed to Egypt based on "supporting a transition to civilian government, including holding free and fair elections, and implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, religion and due process of law," Reuters reported. However, Egypt's ability to uphold these requirements has since been brought into question. The government charged 43 workers of pro-democracy NGOs with illegal foreign financing of nonprofit groups after raiding their offices in December 2011. The first set of judges for the trial recused themselves on February 28, citing "unease." Travel restrictions against the accused NGO workers were lifted on March 1, and NGOs posted the USD $300,500 bail for each of 13 foreign workers to leave the country. On March 8, Khaled Sleiman, lawyer for the Egyptian government, "demanded seven additional charges against the NGO workers, including espionage," the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) reported. The trial has been adjourned until April 10, and the Egyptian government has ordered the return of the accused workers out on bail to attend.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the president of the Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Aid expressed his disappointment with Clinton's choice to approve the funds: "I know Secretary Clinton wants the democratic transition in Egypt to succeed, but by waiving the conditions we send a contradictory message. The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy." Freedom House President David Kramer echoed Leahy's statement: "A resumption of military aid at this point also sends the wrong message to the Egyptian people – that we care only about American NGO workers (who were allowed to leave), not about the aspirations of the Egyptian people to build democracy." Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also asked Clinton "to hold Egypt to account" for its actions against pro-democracy NGOs, Associated Press reported. In response to these criticisms, an unnamed official of the US Department of State claimed that Clinton's decision "reflect[ed] our overarching goal: to maintain our strategic partnership with an Egypt made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy."
The December 2011 raid was preceded by an investigation conducted by the Egyptian government into NGOs' financing. Egyptian law prohibits foreign financing of NGOs and requires that all organizations be registered with the government. Twenty-nine Egyptian NGOs released a joint statement in July 2011 claiming that the Egyptian government began their investigation and "has been conducting a one-sided trial in the media for the last five months, making vague accusations against groups and persons via leaks to the press, with the goal of smearing civil society, especially human rights organizations, and painting them as collaborators with foreign agendas and conspirators against the country's stability."
For previous news on Egypt, please see:
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Condemns NGO Raids in Egypt
Associated Press – US OKs Egypt Aid Despite Congressional Concerns
POMED – Update: The Campaign Against NGOs in Egypt
Reuters – Clinton to Let Military Aid to Egypt Continue: State Department Official
United States Department of State – Press Statement by Victoria Nuland, Department Spokesperson