First Published: 2012-02-08

 

Egypt-US ties in tatters over planned activists trial

 

Leading US senators warn Egypt risks 'disastrous' rupture in ties amid escalating row over planned trial of US pro-democracy activists.

 

Middle East Online

By Michael Mathes - WASHINGTON

Tantawi adding fuel to fire

A trio of leading US senators Tuesday warned Egypt that the risk of a "disastrous" rupture in ties had "rarely been greater" amid an escalating row over the planned trial of US pro-democracy activists.

Echoed by a bipartisan chorus of anger from US lawmakers, Republican senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, joined by independent Joe Lieberman, also warned that US congressional "support for Egypt -- including continued financial assistance -- is in jeopardy."

Washington currently provides some $1.3 billion a year in aid to its key Arab ally -- one of the biggest aid packages offered to any nation.

"The current crisis with the Egyptian government has escalated to such a level that it now threatens our long-standing partnership," the senators wrote in a joint statement.

"There are committed opponents of the United States and the US-Egypt relationship within the government in Cairo who are exacerbating tensions and inflaming public opinion in order to advance a narrow political agenda," they said.

"A rupture in relations would be disastrous, and the risks of such an outcome have rarely been greater," the senators added.

Egyptian justices have announced plans to put dozens of pro-democracy activists, including 19 Americans, on trial over alleged illegal funding to foreign aid groups -- a move that has clearly left US lawmakers seething.

The row has led some to openly question the crucial Egypt-US partnership that has anchored America's Middle East policy for a generation and helped keep the peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Democrat John Kerry, influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, berated Egypt's leaders for what he said was a "slap in the face to Americans who have supported Egypt for decades and to Egyptian individuals and NGOs who have put their futures on the line for a more democratic Egypt."

He accused unnamed figures of "engaging in a very dangerous game that risks damaging both Egypt's democratic prospects and the US-Egyptian bilateral relationship."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned that US aid to Egypt could be cut if activists end up being imprisoned.

"If anybody goes to jail I think there'll be a backlash you can't contain," Graham told reporters.

Asked if that meant scrapping the aid Washington provides to Egypt, Graham replied: "Yes, I think very much at risk."

"The red line for me is incarceration. If any American or NGO (non-governmental organization) staff member is pre-trial confined or post-trial confined, that's just an absolute overreaction," he added.

There was anger in the House of Representatives as well, with congresswoman Kay Granger, who chairs a subcommittee on foreign appropriations, warning that "the harassment of Americans who are in Egypt trying to help build their democracy is unacceptable.

"Not one more dollar should flow to the government of Egypt until the secretary of state can assure the American people that this issue is resolved," she said.

The offices of several local and international NGOs including Freedom House and the International Republican Institute were raided in December by Egyptian authorities as part of a probe into alleged illegal funding.

Then last month, several US members of the NGOs were barred from leaving the country, including Sam LaHood, the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who is the IRI's country director for Egypt.

American officials said "a handful" of the pro-democracy activists subsequently took refuge inside the US embassy in Cairo, fearing arrest.

McCain and colleagues in their statement called for a resolution of the crisis "that ends the harassment and prosecution of the employees of US non-governmental organizations operating in Egypt."

"We continue to believe that a solution to this crisis is achievable, and it is clearly in both Egypt's and America's national interests to do everything we can to bring it about as soon as possible," the senators added.

If no resolution is reached soon, however, "consequential damage could be done to the US-Egypt partnership."

Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Egypt of holding the civil society groups "hostage" with a law dating back to ousted president Hosni Mubarak's regime, and called for the charges against the accused to be dropped.

"Egyptian authorities should scrap a Mubarak-era law used to prosecute civil society and ensure its planned replacement upholds the right to freedom of association," the London-based group said.

 

Moscow seeks to boost its influence in Kurdistan through oil

Tillerson does not expect Gulf crisis to be resolved soon

Lebanon approves first budget since 2005

Iraq army takes last Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province

Ancient Turkish town set to vanish forever under floodwaters

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike

Yemen rebel youth minister urges children to join war

Iran's Guards show no intention of curbing activities in Mideast

EU will cut some money for Turkey as ties sour

Iraqi workers return to oil fields retaken from Kurds

Kurdish disarray shows resurgence of Iraq's army

Iranian military chief visits frontline near Syria's Aleppo

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 110 people over Gulen links

Hamas calls US unity comments ‘blatant interference’

OPEC chief pleased with oil market rebalancing

Turkish police detain leading civil society figure

G7, tech giants meet to tackle terror online

Iraq’s Kurdish regional government open to Baghdad talks

Tensions flare among Yemen's rebels

Baghdad court issues arrest warrant for Iraqi Kurd VP

Erdogan, Nigerian counterpart to ramp up cooperation

Russian medics operate on Yemen's Saleh despite embargo

Baghdad condemns oil deal between Russia’s Rosneft, Kurds

Power shifts again in Iraq's multi-ethnic Kirkuk

Syrian general accused of journalist deaths killed in Deir Ezzor

Raqa liberators ready for civilian handover, on to next battle

Revolutionary Guards say Iranian missile program will continue

Erdogan calls on three major mayors to resign

ICC investigating several war crimes in Mali

Erdogan says may shut Iraqi border at any moment

Tunisian couple jailed for 'public indecency' over car kiss

Next round of Syria talks at end October

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

PSG's Khelaifi to be quizzed in Swiss World Cup probe

UN urges de-escalation in Iraq

Haley: Iran must be judged in totality of its aggressive behaviour

EU says Israeli settlements illegal under international law

Kurdish independence goes from dream to dust

Female commander more than just poster girl for Raqa victory

Saudi airline flies to Baghdad for first time in 27 years

Wanted Dead: France's approach to IS jihadists