Egypt: Escalating crisis

Diplomacy and threats fail to resolve tensions between Egypt and the US over pro-democracy NGOs – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Doaa El-Bey, 16 – 22 February 2011.

This week’s diplomatic efforts did not seem to ease the row between the US and Egypt caused by the decision by Egypt’s military rulers to place 43 NGO employees, including 19 Americans, on trial for illegally receiving foreign funding. The trial date is expected to be set within days … // 

… The US has responded with a mixture of threats and diplomacy. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey paid Egypt a two-day visit and on Sunday met Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. They discussed the long-term relationship between the US and Egypt and other regional issues alongside Egypt’s investigation into the allegedly illegal funding of pro-democracy NGOs. Dempsey also met his Egyptian counterpart Sami Anan, Tantawi’s deputy.

The visit by the top US military official represented the strongest leverage the United States has in its effort to end the crackdown on American and Egyptian NGOs. There is no sign, though, that it is reaping fruits.

US Ambassador to Egypt Ann Patterson paid a surprise visit to the Foreign Ministry and met with Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. No details have been released of what was discussed.

The US State Department has hinted repeatedly that the crackdown on NGOs could jeopardise American aid to Egypt and lead to it being cancelled.

When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Cairo that failure to resolve the dispute could lead to the loss of American aid Amr responded by saying the government could not interfere in a judicial matter. Meanwhile, the State Department asked Congress to approve $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, the same figure as last year, though Tom Nides, deputy secretary of state and chief budget official, pointed out that disbursing the money could be hampered unless the current impasse is resolved.

Last week, an Egyptian army delegation met State Department officials who outlined both the US position on the NGOS and new conditions imposed by Congress on military aid. The conditions include taking serious steps towards democratic reform, holding free and fair elections, implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and displaying commitment to due legal process. The military delegation then cancelled scheduled meetings with US lawmakers to return to Cairo. No official reasons were given for their abrupt departure though analysts concluded that the delegation found the new conditions unacceptable.

Egypt and the US have been close allies for more than three decades, with Washington relying on deposed president Hosni Mubarak to uphold Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. The US- Egyptian military relationship has been transformed since the ouster of Mubarak, and Egypt’s ruling generals seem increasingly willing to risk American funding as they try to win over a public keen that post-revolution Egypt show greater independence.

A campaign to refuse US aid altogether, launched by cleric Mohamed Hassan, gained support from across the political and social spectrum. Last week members of the board of the Bar Association protested in front of the US embassy in Cairo voicing the same demand.

Establishing new relations based on mutual respect and common interests, says the anonymous diplomat, is a more realistic and pressing demand than cancelling aid outright. (full text).

Links:

Washington-Cairo crossroad: Military linkage still forms the cornerstone for US-Egyptian relations, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ezzat Ibrahim, 16 – 22 February 2011;

Missing answers: Is the ruling military council addressing public discontent or seeking distractions, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Amirah Ibrahim, 16 – 22 February 2011.

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