The U.S. Congress will refuse to release $1.3 billion in U.S. aid for Egypt’s military if the authorities’ maintain their “assault” on pro-democracy groups, a prominent lawmaker warned today.
“We want to send a clear message to the Egyptian military that the days of blank checks are over,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations.
“We value the relationship and will provide substantial amounts of aid, but not unconditionally. They must do their part to support the transition to civilian government,” says the architect of new provisions governing military assistance to Egypt, which require the State Department to certify that Egypt’s government is “supporting the transition to civilian government,” including free and fair elections; policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and rule of law.
“If the assault against international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations continues, several of the requirements for certification could not be met,” said Leahy.
Egypt’s authorities have slapped a travel ban on several foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens. The travel restrictions are widely considered a prelude to the prosecution of Egyptian and foreign pro-democracy activists, following security forces’ December 29 raids on seventeen pro-democracy NGOs, including three U.S.-based and government funded groups: Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute.
The dispute is threatening to undermine U.S.-Egyptian relations and jeopardize assistance to other transitions.
Singling out Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Aboul Naga, the purported architect of the attacks, Leahy says that “no future U.S. Government funds should be provided to or through that ministry as long as she is in charge.”
In a forceful statement, the senator rejects the Egyptian authorities’ “spurious charge” that the NGOs were operating without permission and dismissed claims that the groups were unregistered as “a transparently specious excuse for shutting them down.”
Leahy is equally dismissive of Egyptian officials’ claims to be upholding the rule of law, observing that “the complaint against these organizations was issued by a minister with no direct authority over legal matters.”
The Muslim Brotherhood this week backed the government’s attack on pro-democracy groups as a legitimate attempt to foil foreign interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.
Leahy rejects such claims, noting that a “negative propaganda campaign was unleashed in the state-controlled media” against pro-democracy groups.
The official propaganda campaign has been successful in swinging public opinion against foreign-linked NGOs, observers suggest, and also enjoys tacit support from the Muslim Brotherhood as well as some of the old established ‘liberal’ parties, especially the Wafd, which fear the emergence of new democratic forces.
“There is abundant misinformation about the work of the American-based organizations, with some Egyptian officials accusing them – without offering any evidence – of trying to subvert Egypt’s political process,” Leahy observes.
“Without belaboring the point, their work was no secret as they had nothing to hide,” Leahy continues. “They were helping to build the capacity of Egyptian organizations engaged in peaceful work for democracy and human rights, supporting the development of political parties, and working with Egyptian groups to provide non-partisan voter education.”