Monday, February 6, 2012

Egypt names Americans charged in NGO probe; Sam LaHood among those facing criminal charges

Washington Post
Ernesto LondoƱo
William Wan

CAIRO — Egyptian authorities have charged the Egypt country directors of the International Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute in an investigation into the financing of pro-democracy organizations, state media reported Monday.

IRI’s Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, was the first of 43 names published Monday afternoon on the Arabic-language Web site by state-owned newspaper al-Ahram. Several other American and Egyptian IRI employees are also being charged.

National Democratic Institute Egypt head Julie Hughes is also on the list, along with more than a dozen colleagues of various nationalities. Also charged is Patrick Butler of the International Center for Journalists. 

The list published Monday names 14 of the individuals charged in the probe as “fugitives,” suggesting several managed to leave Egypt before the government imposed a travel ban on those under investigation.

They are charged with spending money from organizations that were operating in Egypt without a license.

Egyptian authorities had announced Sunday that they intended to prosecute 19 Americans as part of their investigation and the development added pressure to an already strained relationship between Egypt’s ruling generals and the Obama administration.

U.S. officials have sternly warned Cairo in recent days that the roughly $1.5 billion in aid earmarked for Egypt this year could be withheld if the politically charged investigation isn’t resolved quickly. But the tone of Sunday’s announcement suggested the Egyptian government is doubling down on what has become a high-stakes diplomatic dispute.

Washington enjoyed a good relationship with Egypt’s generals during the reign of President Hosni Mubarak, when the military was seen as a bulwark against Islamic extremists and the Mubarak regime was Israel’s most important Arab ally. But those ties have soured over the past year as the generals have struggled to govern a country reeling from near-daily protests, economic woes and an unprecedented level of violence. The military leaders have often accused foreigners of working covertly to destabilize Egypt during the difficult transition to civilian rule.
Fayza Abul Naga, Egypt’s minister for international cooperation, who is widely seen as the mastermind of the probe, said Sunday’s announcement should leave no doubt about the “government’s seriousness about discovering some of these groups’ plans to destabilize Egypt,” the state-owned newspaper al-Ahram reported on its Web site. The minister is among the few Mubarak loyalists who remain in the Egyptian cabinet.

Egypt has banned a number of nongovernmental organizations’ workers, including LaHood, country director for the International Republican Institute, from leaving the country. Fearing they could be arrested, at least three of the Americans under investigation have sought shelter at the U.S. Embassy.
In response to pressure from Washington, Egyptian officials have said in recent days that they were unable to meddle in a judicial matter.

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