News / Middle East

US Citizens Banned From Leaving Egypt Take Refuge at Embassy

U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland  (File)
U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland (File)

Several U.S. democracy activists who are being prevented from leaving Egypt have taken refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. 

One week after Egyptian officials turned them away from Cairo's airport, several American pro-democracy activists are living in the U.S. embassy compound because State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says they feel more comfortable there.

Egyptian officials say the members of U.S. non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, are part of an investigation into the alleged use of foreign funds to sponsor anti-government protests.

Nuland told reporters on Monday that U.S. officials do not believe that any of the Americans face physical threats in Egypt and that none have been charged with a crime.

“It's not terribly transparent exactly what the circumstances of this case are at this moment," she said. "They, therefore, asked to come in. And the embassy was within their right to invite them, and that is what has happened.”

Nuland made clear that the embassy's decision to invite these Americans to stay in the diplomatic compound was not meant to circumvent Egypt's judicial process.

“There is no expectation that any of these individuals are seeking to avoid any kind of judicial process," added Nuland. "In fact, with regard to the larger question of NGO issues in Egypt, as we have said many times, these organizations have been endeavoring to cooperate with the judicial process. They have been making themselves available for interviews. As you know, their offices were also raided, so the government has all of their information as well.”

Egyptian authorities seized computers, documents and tens of thousands of dollars in raids on the offices of 17 NGOs late last year.

Analyst Marou Innocent of the Washington-based Cato Institute research group says the crackdown on NGOs highlights a long-running mistrust in Egyptian society.

“Unfortunately, many of those who are in the regime who have an interest in the status quo will continue to push the narrative that these foreign NGOs are sort of proxies of greater powers, that they are pushing their own agenda.  And some of them certainly are against certain interests," said Innocent. "But the vast majority of them are helping the revolution and helping those more liberal Egyptian protestors. I think that going forward, we are going to see more Egyptians demanding control over their own destiny and shaping their own future.”

Among the groups closed in the December raids are the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute - both of which receive some U.S. government funding. Marou Innocent says that makes them targets of Egyptians who are resentful of decades of American support for former president Hosni Mubarak.

“After 30 years of dictatorship of authoritarian backing from the United States, a lot of Egyptians feel that the United States was responsible for the tyranny that they experienced," added Innocent. "That is a very legitimate concern. It is a very legitimate grievance. Hopefully, going forward, U.S. interests can continue within Egypt and within the region, but not to the detriment of the Egyptian people.”

State Department Spokeswoman Nuland says diplomats are still working to resolve the stand-off without further escalation.

An Egyptian military delegation is visiting Washington on a trip arranged before this latest dispute over NGOs.  Nuland says she is certain the delegation is hearing about Washington's displeasure over the travel ban in every meeting they attend.

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