Egypt proceeds with crackdown on pro-democracy groups

Egypt will prosecute 44 NGO workers – including 19 Americans – despite warnings from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton the US would review $2 billion worth of aid sent to the country, Agence France-Presse reported today.

The Egyptian ruling military council has accused nongovernmental organizations of coordinating illegal activity and “setting up branches of international organizations in Egypt without a license from the Egyptian government" and of "receiving illegal foreign funding," a source told AFP.

"Forty-four people, including Egyptians, 19 Americans and other nationalities, have been referred to the Cairo criminal court in the NGO funding case," the source said.

Those arrested include Serbs, Germans, Norwegians, Jordanians and Palestinians, and all are banned from traveling from Egypt. Among the Americans is Sam Lahood, son of US Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, the Washington Post said.

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Lahood heads the International Republican Institute in Egypt. Pro-democracy agencies have long existed, albeit unofficially, in Egypt, the Post said. Late last year, Egypt raided 17 foreign NGO offices, including Lahood's IRI and the National Democratic Institute.

Because of a recent Congressional ruling, Egypt must demonstrate its taking steps toward democracy and abiding by a 1979 peace agreement with Israel to receive aid, the Post said.

“We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt,” Clinton said Saturday. “We do not want that.”

Of the American aid to Egypt, more than half is military assistance; only Israel receives more American money, the Post said.

The BBC said the recent arrests are another way of suppressing ongoing protests.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces faces continuing violence after 74 people died during a riot after a soccer match last week.

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