Trial of Americans in Egypt Shakes Ties Between Nations
CAIRO — Egypt will begin criminal proceedings on Friday against 19 Americans and two dozen others in a politically charged investigation into the foreign financing of nonprofit groups that has plunged relations between the United States and Egypt to their lowest point in three decades, state news media reported Saturday.
The trial escalates a confrontation that has shaken the 30-year alliance between Cairo and Washington, a cornerstone of the American-backed regional order since the Camp David accords were signed in 1978. American officials have said the prosecution jeopardizes the disbursement of more than $1.5 billion in foreign aid to Egypt, the bulk of which is assistance to the military, which has governed the country since the ouster of the longtime leader Hosni Mubarak a year ago.
The 43 defendants have been charged with operating local offices of international organizations without the requisite licenses and illegally receiving foreign funds, state news media reported.
The American defendants work for four United States-based groups, two of which, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, are chartered as democracy-building organizations and have close ties to leaders in the United States Congress. The other two organizations are Freedom House and the International Center for Journalists.
The state news media report said that the groups’ operations “infringe on Egyptian sovereignty.”
Seven of the 19 Americans are in Egypt and have been barred by the government from leaving.
The prosecutions come against a backdrop of rising xenophobia and a drumbeat of anti-American statements from top officials, suggesting that the country’s problems are the work of American agents handing out cash to sow chaos in the streets.
American officials have sought to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, urging Egypt’s military government to throw out the case or at least allow the Americans to leave. President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have all met or spoken with Egypt’s military leaders in recent weeks. Senator John McCain is expected to lead a Congressional delegation to Egypt this week.
A State Department spokeswoman said the United States had not received official confirmation of the trial date. “We’re still working with the Egyptians on this,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
American officials have threatened to cancel over $1.5 billion of annual foreign aid to Egypt, a central pillar of the bilateral relationship. In retaliation, leaders of the Islamist Freedom and Justice Party, the largest bloc in Egypt’s recently elected Parliament, have threatened to review the country’s peace treaty with Israel.
State news media reported Tuesday that Fayza Abul Naga, the minister of cooperation who is seen as the driving force behind the prosecutions, told prosecutors in October that the United States used the nonprofit groups to hijack the revolution for American and Israeli interests.
The revolution surprised the United States and “slipped from its control,” she said. The United States responded by using “all its resources and instruments to contain the situation and push it in a direction that promotes American and also Israeli interests.”