The Middle East Channel

U.S. Senators warn of “disastrous” implications for Egyptian Indictment of NGO workers

U.S. Senators warn of "disastrous" implications for Egyptian indictment of NGO workers

U.S. officials and international human rights organizations have condemned Egypt's pursuit of the trial of 43 NGO workers on charges of receiving illegal foreign funding and operating without licenses. Staff members indicted included workers from five NGOs, consisting of Americans, Egyptians, Lebanese, Germans, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Serbians. U.S. Senators John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Joe Lieberman said Egypt's government is "exacerbating tensions and inflaming public opinion in order to advance a narrow political agenda." They continued, "A rupture in relations would be disastrous, and the risks of such an outcome have rarely been greater." The United States currently provides nearly $1.3 billion a year aid to Egypt, funding which the United States claims will be jeopardized if a trial proceeds and if any Americans are imprisoned. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the crackdown was a "slap in the face to Americans who have supported Egypt for decades and to the Egyptian individuals and NGOs who have put their futures on the line for a more democratic Egypt." The crackdown and raids on NGOs were orchestrated by Fayza Abul Naga, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, who has been criticized for being part of the "old guard", having served several terms during Hosni Mubarak's rule. For his part Abul Naga claimed there is no crisis between Egypt and the United States over human right issues or civil society organizations.

Headlines  

  • In a sign of waning influence in the country, the U.S. State Department is likely to dramatically cut the number of its staff  -- which including contractors has risen to 16,000 people -- at the embassy in Iraq. Reasons given have included Iraqi "obstructionism" and a lack of a formal agreement between the U.S. and Iraq over the embassy.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended his visit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad saying the leader pledged reform and an end to violence. Meanwhile, Homs endured a fresh round of attacks.
  • Israel's main labor union, Histadrut, which called a nationwide strike closing financial institutions, government offices, and Tel Aviv's airport temporarily, has come to an agreement in principle to return to normal conditions.
  • Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he will return to Yemen prior to the February 21 elections, raising concerns about his commitment to leave office.
  • Morocco's cabinet adopted a draft law improving basic guarantees for military personnel after protests and cases of soldiers' self-immolations.

Daily Snapshot

Syrians living in Qatar protest outside the Russian embassy in Doha on February 7, 2012 against Moscow's second veto on a UN Security Council resolution on the President Bashar al-Assad regime's crackdown on dissent (FAISAL AL-TAMIMI/AFP/Getty Images). 

Arguments & Analysis

'Why the Syrian Free Army should put down their guns' (Daniel Serwer, The Atlantic)

"If the violence continues to spiral, the regime is going to win. They are better armed and better organized. The Syrian revolt could come to look like the Iranian street demonstrations of 2009, or more likely the bloody Shia revolt in Iraq in 1991, or the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama in 1982, which ended with the regime killing thousands. There is nothing inevitable about the fall of this or any other regime -- that is little more than a White House talking point. What will make it inevitable is strategic thinking, careful planning, and nonviolent discipline. Yes, even now." 

'Egypt's transition: Finding a way out of the vicious circle' (Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

"If there is anything the United States can do to help Egypt in this difficult period, it is not to equate progress toward democracy with accepting the presence of American NGOs. Rather, the United States and the international community should encourage all political actors to realistically address the conundrum into which the SCAF and the parties vying for their own advantage have plunged the country. Egypt's actions toward American NGOs are problematic, but the threats to the Egyptian transition are much more serious, and this is what needs to be addressed." 

'Is Assad's time running out?' (Room for Debate blog, New York Times)

Ed Husain: 

It is impossible to tell whether Assad's time is running out. Educated and Westernized friends of mine in Syria who once opposed Assad on political grounds and sought reform now support him because they fear the prospect of an all-out civil war between tribes, cities, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Druze, Ismailis, Catholics, Protestants and assorted Orthodox Christians. Syria is a complex nation. Containing -- not fanning -- the current conflict is in everybody's interests. 

Rime Allaf:

It doesn't matter how much support Bashar al-Assad's regime still commands, nor does it ultimately matter why his fans still cling on to the illusion of his ability to remain in power. The regime has gone on a killing, torturing and jailing spree for nearly a year, and is still unable to crush the resistance that has now begun to arm itself and to exercise self-defense. It is a matter of time, and it is unclear how the transition will be achieved, but the majority of Syrians are sure of one thing: we have reached the end of an era. 

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