U.S. official: Egypt's targeting of NGOs a 'serious concern'

Story highlights

  • The trial is moved up to this Thursday
  • The Obama administration welcomes free parliamentary elections in Egypt
  • Pro-democracy NGOs in Egypt are charged with fomenting unrest
  • NGO personnel left Egypt this week by plane after posting bail
Egypt's prosecution of American, European and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations is "a matter of serious continuing concern" for U.S. officials, but the Obama administration supports the Mideast country's "transition to democracy," a State Department spokeswoman said Saturday.
"Despite the recent strains, and differences on certain issues, the fundamentals of this strategic relationship remain strong," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a written statement. "The United States is committed to supporting the transition to democracy in Egypt, and we welcome the progress that has been made by Egypt in conducting free elections for both houses of parliament."
The State Department also supports Egypt's economic reforms and financial stability, including efforts by the International Monetary Fund to enact a program for the country, Nuland said.
A group of American, European and Palestinian pro-democracy activists accused of fomenting unrest in Egypt left Cairo this week on a plane after being allowed to post bail, U.S. and Egyptian authorities said.
The group had been under a travel ban that Egypt's government lifted this week, two months after a series of raids that targeted international nongovernmental organizations.
The U.S. government provided a plane "to facilitate their departure," Nuland said Thursday.
Nuland said the groups posted bail on behalf of their workers -- an amount that had been set at 2 million Egyptian pounds (about $332,000) each -- and whether they would return to face trial was "an issue that each one of them will have to make their own decision about."
On Saturday, the newly appointed judge in the case, Makram Awad, decided that the trial will resume on Thursday instead of April 26.
The lifting of the travel ban caused fury among some Egyptians and in the political arena.
In its first session including all members of the upper and lower parliament, lawmakers sought the questioning of several government officials, including Prime Minister Kamal Al Ganzouri, over the release of the activists.
And Nazly Mohamed, an activist and prominent human rights lawyer, questioned the independence of the court system.
"We want to know how much money the Supreme Council got paid from the American government who obviously twisted arms here," he said. "If these Americans in the NGO case were truly people who toppled the regime and planned to destroy the country, then how did they let them go?"
One of the organizations whose people were involved praised the decision to lift the ban, but expressed concern for its Egyptian staffers who remained behind. And Nuland said the departure "doesn't resolve the legal case or the larger issues concerning the NGOs," which have strained ties between Cairo and Washington, its leading ally.
Nuland said the group that left Cairo included American, Norwegian, German, Serbian and Palestinian activists, but she had no further details. They were among 43 nongovernmental-organization workers who faced fraud charges in an Egyptian court after the December raids.
Egyptian authorities accused the nongovernmental organizations of international interference that was stoking continued protests against the current military-led government.