U.S. democracy groups say Egyptian minister targeted them (REUTERS) By Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON 02/16/12 3:17pm EST)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - U.S. pro-democracy groups on Thursday blamed an Egyptian
minister who was a holdover from the era of ousted President Hosni
Mubarak for starting a campaign against American democracy activists
that has strained U.S.-Cairo ties.
Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Abul Naga resented a
reduction in U.S. aid that had been channeled through her ministry
but was shifted last year to U.S. democracy-building groups, the
groups´ leaders told a U.S. congressional committee.
"We can safely say that Faiza Abul Naga started this, but I think it
has gotten out of control since then," said Lorne Craner, president
of the International Republican Institute, one of the democracy-
building organizations whose staff have been charged and prevented
from leaving Egypt.
"With her lies about our activities, she has managed to convince some
of the (Egyptian) military that we were doing nefarious things,"
Craner told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
He and other leaders of the U.S. groups said they feared some of
their activists may be imprisoned in Egypt as a result of accusations
made against them there, which Craner said were false.
Charges have been brought against 43 foreign and Egyptian activists
after investigators swooped down on the offices of civil society
groups on December 29, confiscating computers and other equipment and
seizing cash and documents.
Around 20 of those charged are Americans, and they have been banned
from leaving Egypt. One is IRI´s Sam LaHood, the son of the U.S.
AFFILIATED WITH U.S. PARTIES
The American groups raided were the IRI and the National Democratic
Institute, both democracy-building groups loosely affiliated with the
two main U.S. political parties, as well as the human rights group
Freedom House and the International Center for Journalists.
The charges include allegations that the activists were working for
organizations not legally registered in Egypt. The groups say they
have long sought to register there.
They are also alleged to have broken the law by accepting foreign
funds -- grant money from the U.S. government -- without Egyptian
The Egyptian government says the issue is a matter of law, not
politics. But in Washington, both Congress and the administration of
President Barack Obama have said the probe threatens U.S. aid to
That aid has been running at about $1.55 billion in recent years;
$1.3 billion of this has been military aid.
Abul Naga has linked U.S. funding of civil society initiatives to an
American plot to undermine Egypt. She has spoken of what she calls an
attempt to steer the post-Mubarak transition in "a direction that
realized American and Israeli interests."
David Kramer, president of Freedom House, told the lawmakers that no
more U.S. aid should go through Abul Naga´s ministry, which has
handled non-military U.S. assistance in the past. He said that if the
situation is not soon resolved, U.S. military aid should be suspended
"Unfortunately, I believe that only the suspension of U.S. military
assistance will get the Egyptian government´s attention," Kramer told
Kramer said Abul Naga resented the decision by the Obama
administration last year to shift nearly $20 million directly to IRI
and NDI for the purposes of helping Egypt with its elections.
But he also said that while Abul Naga "has been the most public about
this, this isn´t about one person.
"This is about a concerted campaign against civil society, that is
either being condoned by or allowed by the military leadership to
The committee chairman, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said no
more U.S. aid should be provided to any ministry controlled by Abul
"The Egyptian government´s actions cannot be taken lightly and
warrant punitive actions against certain Egyptian officials, and
reconsideration of U.S. assistance to Egypt," Ros-Lehtinen said.
"For even if this issue were resolved tomorrow, this episode will
color the way in which assistance is provided to Egypt," she said.
Mubarak was overthrown last year in a popular uprising. The army has
managed Egypt since then but pledged to hand power to an elected
president by the middle of this year.
The democracy groups´ leaders denied their activists had done
anything improper or illegal. Ken Wollack, president of the National
Democratic Institute, said it had never trained or funded protest
movements, never funded political parties, and never supported a
particular outcome in any election.
"Our goal is to support a transparent, democratic process that gives
people the freedom to make choices," Wollack said.
Of the 10 organizations raided on December 29, five were foreign (the
four U.S. groups plus the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany) and
five were Egyptian, Kramer said.
He said some additional 400 Egyptian non-governmental organizations
have been under investigation and face "relentless" pressure from the
"The crackdown on civil society represents a clear effort to block a
democratic transition in Egypt," Kramer said. (Reporting By Susan
Cornwell; Editing by David Storey)(© Thomson Reuters 2012. 02/16/12)
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