Egypt has accused American groups of financing chaos in Egypt after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime last year.
Cabinet Minister Faiza Abu El-Naga said in testimony in October that Washington was to blame for street protests throughout Egypt and for using the spread of discontent to strengthen U.S. and Israeli interests in the region.
This week, Egypt announced it will begin hearing the criminal trial of 19 Americans and 24 others (February 26) in a case against foreign-funded pro-democracy groups, according to MENA, the country’s state news agency. Analysts are worried that this is the deepest crisis in U.S.-Egyptian relations since the Camp David accords were signed over 30 years ago.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have called on Egypt to halt the criminal investigation, but Egypt's ruling military council has refused. American officials have threatened to hold back the $1.3 billion in U.S. aid that Egypt receives, mostly to its military. In return, Egyptian leaders of the Islamist Freedom and Justice Party have threatened to review the country’s peace treaty with Israel.
The 43 people set to go on trial in Egypt, including Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, are accused of illegal foreign funding as part of a crackdown on NGOs. They are also being charged with operating local offices of international organizations without the necessary licenses. The NGOs have said they were working with Egyptians to build democracy and hold free elections, but the MENA report claims they were seeking to "infringe on Egyptian sovereignty".
The Americans work for four U.S.-based groups: the National Democratic Institute; the International Republican Institute; Freedom House and the International Center for Journalists.
On Monday, Islamist presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail launched a campaign calling on Egyptians to donate their own money in order to be self-sufficient and abandon U.S aid, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The prosecutions come at a time when there is rising xenophobia and anti-U.S. sentiment from Egypt’s top officials, who have stated that the country's problems are the work of the U.S.
(Photo © Gaël Favari)