24-page document in Arabic lays out the charges
The case is not expected to be resolved soon
43 employees of civil-society organizations face prosecution
Senior U.S. officials say they expect the Americans will have to stand trial
The United States has received a document from Egyptian authorities that lays out charges against the staff of U.S. and international democracy-building groups, the State Department said Tuesday.
“Our lawyers who we dispatched from Washington to the embassy have now received a 24-page document in Arabic,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. “It was given to us by the Egyptian deputy prosecutor general. We are now translating the document.”
The development clears up confusion that arose last week when Nuland said initially that the United States had received the document, then said a day later that no such document had been received. She attributed the discrepancy to “miscommunication” between the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the State Department in Washington.
“We are continuing to work as hard as we can with the Egyptian government to work our way through this, and we continue to insist that our people have done nothing wrong and that they ought to be allowed to come home,” Nuland said Tuesday.
A resolution of the case is not expected soon. The chief judge in the case has not assigned it to a criminal court and no trial date has been set, Nuland said.
Egyptian authorities have announced that 43 non-Egyptians working for civil-society organizations face prosecution. They include 16 Americans, among them Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, according to the State Department. Egypt had put the number of Americans at 19.
Egyptian officials have blamed continuing unrest in their country on foreign interference they attribute, in part, to the organizations. In December, authorities carried out 17 raids on the offices of 10 organizations, including the U.S.-based Freedom House, National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.
Seven Americans, including LaHood,who is the director of Egypt operations for the International Republican Institute, have been ordered not to leave the country. A “handful” of U.S. employees of the organizations have taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy, Nuland said. She declined to specify how many, noting that some have arrived and others have departed.
But senior U.S. officials say they expect the Americans will have to stand trial. Now that the case has been moved to the courts, the officials said it would be hard to get the charges against the Americans dropped without appearing to be interfering with Egypt’s judiciary.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who serves as chairman of the board at the International Republican Institute, told CNN that he will travel to Egypt at the end of the week.
McCain said that, while he will address the situation of the detained Americans, he will not attempt to negotiate their release. “That is the job of the administration, but we will have conversations with military leaders and others who I have known for many, many years on a personal basis,” he said Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey traveled last weekend to Egypt in a trip that the Pentagon said was not focused on the detention of the NGO employees.
Dempsey said the issue has threatened what has for decades been a strong relationship between the two countries’ military forces, a point he said he made to the Egyptians.
“When I left, there was no doubt that they understood the seriousness of it,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “I spent about a day and half in conversation with them, encouraging them in the strongest possible terms to resolve this so that our (military-to-military) relationship could continue.”
Dempsey told the hearing that it would be a mistake for Congress to cut off the more than $1 billion in military aid that the United States sends to Egypt.
In a separate matter, Egyptian authorities on Tuesday freed an American student and an Australian freelance journalist arrested Saturday along with their Egyptian translator, but charges are still pending against them, an official said.
“The three of them are not allowed to travel, and they are charged with inciting people to destabilize the security of the country,” said Adel Saeed, spokesman for Egypt’s general prosecutor. “We are waiting for the final report from the investigators.”
American student Derek Ludovici, Australian Austin Mackell and their Egyptian translator, Aliya Alwi, were accused of bribing people to join a general strike in Mahalla, an industrial city about 70 miles (108 kilometers) north of Cairo.
The official Middle East News Agency said the three were accused of “inciting protest and vandalism” via Facebook and that Mackell was illegally working as a journalist despite having entered the country on a tourist visa.
Mackell and Alwi had traveled to Mahalla to interview a labor-rights activist and to cover a general strike scheduled for February 11, according to Mackell and Egyptian activist Shahira Abu el Leil, a founding member of the No To Military Tribunals of Civilians group. Ludovici, Mackell’s friend and a student at American University in Cairo, joined them on the trip because it related to the thesis he is preparing as part of his studies, she said.
Witnesses who accused the trio of bribing people to join the strike were themselves bribed, she alleged.
“The witnesses who testified against them were paid, and I got a confirmation from a young boy who was paid 200 pounds to confirm they were inciting and bribing people,” she said.
She said she located the men, informed their families of their whereabouts and contacted their lawyers. “Their embassies were slow and only responded 24 hours after their detention, after I called them and warned that if anything bad happens to them, they would be liable,” she said. “Mobilizing the local media and social media networks was important for their protection.”
Mackell told CNN they had gone to interview Kamal Al Fayoumi, a socialist activist, about the labor unions and how they had become more organized and unified since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. “I had last met him in March 2011, and wanted to do a follow-up and cover the strike for an Australian website. He tried to help us throughout the ordeal.”
He said the witnesses against them lied, perhaps in exchange for a payoff. Though Mackell said neither he nor Alwi was treated well, “our Egyptian taxi driver probably took the brunt of the pressure for transporting us. I heard loud screams and slaps, maybe even electric shocking from an adjacent cell for a good 30 minutes at the Mahalla police station.”
Mackell said military intelligence questioned them in police stations in Tanta and in Mahalla, and the prosecutor in Cairo questioned them too before their release on Monday.
On Tuesday night, a broadcaster on state-run Egypt Radio said, “We thank the people of Mahalla for their efforts in capturing the two spies who were inciting people to strike. Egypt is going through a conspiracy and every citizen has to keep an eye out and protect his country.”
CNN’s Elise Labott and Ted Barrett in Washington and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy in Cairo contributed to this report.