By Konstantin Garibov
43 NGO activists from Europe, the US and several Arab countries face an Egyptian criminal court today in Cairo on charges of supplying illegal foreign funding to Egypt’s non-governmental organizations.
Nine NGOs which employed the activists who are now facing prosecution were closed down late last year. The move was part of an investigation into allegations that pro-democracy groups and other organizations which operated in Egypt acted illegally and incited public protests.
On Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Egypt’s foreign minister that a failure to resolve the NGO-related dispute could lead to the withdrawal of American military aid to Egypt.
But Abdel Munem Said, head of political and strategic studies at the Egyptian state-funded Al Ahram newspaper, says:
“I don’t think we need any American aid at all… This does not mean, of course, that we do want to have good relations with Washington, but I think the issue of military aid only complicates things, each year becoming an instrument of political pressure on my country… This aid gives Egypt a bad name in the world and serves the the United States’ strategic interests…”
Washington is expected to give Egypt $1.5 billion in military assistance in 2012. This means that the Egyptian military will hardly be willing to lose such a significant source of financial support which is the main reason why the Egyptian army is currently the strongest in the entire Arab world. And still, the Egyptian delegation has cut short its consultations in Washington and returned to Cairo, thus leaving the whole issue of US military aid up in the air.
With the US-Egypt relations now in a deadlock, Washington still wants to see Egypt as an instrument of its foreign policy in the volatile region. Vladimir Belyakov, an analyst at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, comments.
“It’s really hard to say how this whole situation is going to be resolved… The NGOs in question are all subject to Egyptian law. They were not officially registered, their staff earned good money and paid no taxes. It looks like these people will be brought to justice no matter what Washington says or does about it…Because Egyptians see this whole thing as foreign meddling in their country’s domestic affairs.”
If convicted, the defendants in the Cairo trial face up to five years behind bars – a prospect that has made US Attorney General Eric Holder cross the Atlantic in an apparent attempt to exert some political influence ahead of the trial.
We asked Isam Hasan, an expert with the Human Rights Institute in Cairo, to comment on the situation.
“The crisis stems from the general confusion which set in in the wake of last year’s revolution… Yes, these NGO had no official permit to operate here, but with Hosni Mubarak at the helm, no one dared to question the legality of their work. Relations between our two countries will no longer be the way they used to be. The Mubarak era is over, but it looks like the Americans do not know yet how to adapt to this new situation…”