U.S. Groups Testify That Egyptian Minister Targeted Them

Testifying before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, officials from U.S. democracy-building organizations blamed Faiza Abul Naga, Egypt's minister of international cooperation, for initiating a campaign that has strained ties between the two nations, Reuters reports.

According to David Kramer, president of Freedom House, one of the targeted groups, Abul Naga, a holdover from the deposed regime of longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, resented a reduction in U.S. aid that had been channeled through her ministry but was shifted last year to American nongovernmental organizations working in the country. In late December, Egyptian investigators confiscated computers, cash, and documents from the offices of ten civil society groups — four from the U.S., one from Germany, and five from Egypt 8212 and subsequently brought charges against forty-three foreign and Egyptian activists, including more than a dozen Americans.

Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, one of the pro-democracy groups whose staffers have been accused, said the situation had spun out of control. "With [Abul Naga's] lies about our activities, she has managed to convince some of the [Egyptian] military that we were doing nefarious things," Craner told the committee.

Egypt has been one of the leading recipients of U.S. economic and military assistance over recent decades, and while the Obama administration has threatened to cut off the $1.5 billion it sends to Egypt if the NGO issue isn't resolved to its satisfaction, the release of Abul Naga's testimony suggests that the country's ruling generals may not be willing, at least for the moment, to back down.

Kramer told lawmakers that no more aid should go through Abul Naga's ministry, which has handled non-military U.S. assistance in the past, and that U.S. military aid should be suspended, as well, if the situation isn't resolved soon. While Abul Naga "has been the most public about this," he added, "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 take place."

Susan Cornwall. "U.S. Democracy Groups Say Egyptian Minister Targeted Them." Reuters 02/16/2012.