Egypt’s military rulers had already clamped down on U.S.-funded organizations, which claimed to promote democracy and human rights in the country, and accused them of provoking violence in the aftermath of the popular uprising a year ago that caused former dictator Hosni Mubarak’s downfall, Press TV reported.
Egypt’s Sunday’s decision to refer the foreigners to trials before a criminal court came despite warnings from the United States which threatened to cut a US$1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt.
Reacting to the US threats to cut the annual aid, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr claimed the trial of the Americans is in the jurisdiction of the judiciary and that government cannot interfere in the issue, the Associated Press reported.
“We are doing our best to contain this but … we cannot actually exercise any influence on the investigating judges right now when it comes to the investigation,” Amr told reporters at a security conference in Munich, Germany.
Egypt’s military rulers have been under fire by liberal and secular groups for bungling what was supposed to be a transition to democracy after Mubarak’s ouster. The ruling generals who took power after the uprising, led by a man who was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years, have tried to deflect the criticism by claiming “foreign hands” are behind protests against their rule and frequently depict the protesters as receiving funds from abroad in a plot to destabilize the country.
Those allegations have cost the youth activists that spearheaded Mubarak’s ouster support among a wider public that is sensitive to allegations of foreign meddling and which sees a conspiracy to destabilize Egypt in nearly every move by a foreign nation.
Egypt has just been plunged into a new cycle of violence with 12 killed in four days of clashes. The clashes were sparked by anger at the authorities’ inability to prevent a riot after a soccer match last week left 74 people dead.
International Cooperation Minister Faiza Aboul Naga is leading the crackdown on nonprofit groups. On Sunday, she vowed to pursue the issue to the very end. The investigation into the funding issue, she claimed, has uncovered “plots aimed at striking at Egypt’s stability.”
Egyptian security officials said that among the Americans sent to trial is Sam LaHood, the head of the Egypt office of the Washington-based International Republican Institute and the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Five Serbs, two Germans and three non-Egyptian Arab nationals are also targeted.
All 43 have been banned from leaving the country. A date has yet to be set for the start of the trial. They can face between three and seven years in jail if convicted on the charges.