Egypt aid on a knife’s edge over US activists’ trial

A trio of leading US senators on Tuesday warned Egypt that the risk of a “disastrous” rupture in ties had “rarely been greater” amid an escalating row over the planned trial of US pro-democracy activists.

Echoed by a bipartisan chorus of anger from US lawmakers, Republican senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, joined by independent Joe Lieberman, also warned that US congressional “support for Egypt — including continued financial assistance — is in jeopardy.”

Washington provides some $1.3-billion a year in aid to its key Arab ally — one of the biggest aid packages offered to any nation.

“The current crisis with the Egyptian government has escalated to such a level that it now threatens our long-standing partnership,” the senators wrote in a joint statement.

“There are committed opponents of the United States and the US-Egypt relationship within the government in Cairo who are exacerbating tensions and inflaming public opinion in order to advance a narrow political agenda,” they said.

“A rupture in relations would be disastrous and the risks of such an outcome have rarely been greater,” the senators added.

Illegal funding
Egyptian justices have announced plans to put dozens of pro-democracy activists, including 19 Americans, on trial over alleged illegal funding to foreign aid groups — a move that has clearly left US lawmakers seething.

The row has led some to openly question the crucial Egypt-US partnership that has anchored America’s Middle East policy for a generation and helped keep the peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Democrat John Kerry, influential chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, berated Egypt’s leaders for what he said was a “slap in the face to Americans who have supported Egypt for decades and to Egyptian individuals and NGOs who have put their futures on the line for a more democratic Egypt”.

He accused unnamed figures of “engaging in a very dangerous game that risks damaging both Egypt’s democratic prospects and the US-Egyptian bilateral relationship”.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned that US aid to Egypt could be cut if activists end up being imprisoned.

“If anybody goes to jail I think there’ll be a backlash you can’t contain,” Graham told reporters.

‘Absolute overreaction’
Asked if that meant scrapping the aid Washington provides to Egypt, Graham replied: “Yes, I think very much at risk.”

“The red line for me is incarceration. If any American or NGO staff member is pre-trial confined or post-trial confined, that’s just an absolute overreaction,” he added.

There was anger in the House of Representatives as well, with congressman Kay Granger, who chairs a subcommittee on foreign appropriations, warning that “the harassment of Americans who are in Egypt trying to help build their democracy is unacceptable.

“Not one more dollar should flow to the government of Egypt until the secretary of state can assure the American people that this issue is resolved,” she said.

The offices of several local and international NGOs including Freedom House and the International Republican Institute were raided in December by Egyptian authorities as part of a probe into alleged illegal funding.

Then last month, several US members of the NGOs were barred from leaving the country, including Sam LaHood, the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who is the IRI’s country director for Egypt.

Taking refuge
American officials said “a handful” of the pro-democracy activists subsequently took refuge inside the US embassy in Cairo, fearing arrest.

McCain and colleagues in their statement called for a resolution of the crisis “that ends the harassment and prosecution of the employees of US non-governmental organisations operating in Egypt.”

“We continue to believe that a solution to this crisis is achievable and it is clearly in both Egypt’s and America’s national interests to do everything we can to bring it about as soon as possible,” the senators added.

If no resolution is reached soon, however, “consequential damage could be done to the US-Egypt partnership”.

Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Egypt of holding the civil society groups “hostage” with a law dating back to ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called for the charges against the accused to be dropped.

“Egyptian authorities should scrap a Mubarak-era law used to prosecute civil society and ensure its planned replacement upholds the right to freedom of association,” the London-based group said. — AFP

Michael Mathes
Michael Mathes
AFP US politics/Congress correspondent, lifelong human.
Advertisting

Workers fight job-creation ‘mess’

Former Ekurhuleni workers argued in court that a programme promising to equip them with skills simply acted as a labour broker for the municipality

Court dissolves local municipality

Landmark judgment paves the way for South Africans to use legal system to hold councils responsible

Mabuza’s ‘distant relative’ scored big

Eskom’s woes are often because of boiler problems at its power plants. R50-billion has been set aside to fix them, but some of the contracts are going to questionable entities

ANC faction gunning for Gordhan

The ambush will take place at an NEC meeting about Eskom. But the real target is Cyril Ramaphosa
Advertising

Press Releases

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Is your tertiary institution is accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Is your tertiary institution accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

VUT chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, dies

The university conferred the degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa on Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi for his outstanding leadership contributions to maths and science education development.

Innovate4AMR now in second year

SA's Team pill-Alert aims to tackle antimicrobial resistance by implementing their strategic intervention that ensures patients comply with treatment.

Medical students present solution in Geneva

Kapil Narain and Mohamed Hoosen Suleman were selected to present their strategic intervention to tackle antimicrobial resistance to an international panel of experts.