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February 07, 2012

Egypt PM: Aid Cutoff Threats Won't Deter NGO Case

Egypt's army-appointed prime minister says Cairo will not halt its investigation into foreign-funded pro-democracy groups despite what he called threats to cut off aid from the United States and other countries.

Kamal al-Ganzouri said Wednesday that Egypt would "apply the law" in the case against the non-governmental organizations and "will not back down because of aid or other reasons." He said Western countries "turned against" Egypt after the crackdown began.

Washington says U.S. military support worth $1.3 billion a year may be cut if Cairo does not drop travel bans on at least 19 American citizens charged with illegal fundraising.

Three U.S. senators warned Tuesday of a "disastrous rupture" in relations with Egypt if the case is not resolved soon. Republicans John McCain and Kelly Ayotte and independent Joe Lieberman said congressional support for Egypt is in jeopardy.

But Egypt's government says it cannot intervene in the judicial probe into whether the NGOs - three of which are based in the U.S. - violated laws such as receiving foreign cash without official approval. A total of 43 foreign and local activists are barred from leaving Egypt and their case has been referred to a criminal court.

Judge Sameh Abu Zaid, one of two judges leading the probe, said Wednesday the travel ban was imposed when some called for questioning left the country. He said the December raids on 17 NGO offices were conducted "according to the law." The judge said about 160 pages of evidence has been collected - "some of it dangerous" - and that the case involves illegal funding from the U.S., Europe and Arab countries.

In Washington, a Pentagon official said the U.S. military's top general will visit Egypt for "long planned" security talks this week with Lt. General Sami Enan and the country's military leader, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. The official said General Martin Dempsey will raise the issue if the dispute is not resolved by the time of his visit.

One of the Americans referred to trial is Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The State Department says the 19 U.S. citizens and others were working to support Egyptian elections. It says they are completely non-partisan and were not raising money to support any individual candidate.

Egypt is preparing for a presidential election aimed at replacing the interim military government with a democratically elected civilian administration. Parliamentary elections were held last month.

Thousands of Egyptians have protested, demanding a faster transition to civilian rule. Egypt has been under a military government since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising last year.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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