CAIRO -- An Egyptian courts decision to convict 43 democracy proponents along with a proposed Egyptian law that would restrict how nongovernmental organizations here operate has spurred a chorus of concern from European leaders, members of the U.S. Congress and even the United Nations that Egypts first democratically elected government is attacking basic human rights.
One German politician said he was outraged and disturbed by the sentences, which were handed down to staff members of various nongovernmental organizations, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, two groups that received money from Congress. Another called the verdict, which affected 16 Americans and two Germans, in addition to Egyptians, scandalous.
In a statement, the United Nations said the verdict was a sign of an increasingly restrictive environment for civil society in the country. Several members of Congress said the United States should reconsider its $1.3 billion in annual aid in light of Egypts perceived recent crackdown on civic society organizations, which are commonly called nongovernmental organizations.
Theres been one notable exception to the international response: the Obama administration, which said it was deeply concerned by the sentences but suggested it was not a watershed moment in relations with Egypt. Other nations and international groups called for the courts to reconsider the verdicts or said recent actions by Egypt should lead to limits on international aid; the Obama administration said Egypt should work with civic groups.
I urge the government of Egypt to work with civic groups as they respond to the Egyptian peoples aspirations for democracy as guaranteed in Egypts new constitution, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement shortly after the June 4 verdicts.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden used nearly the same language. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that discussing future U.S funding to Egypt would be speculative.
In Germany, calls to cut funding are growing. Peter Gauweiler, a member of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, called the ruling a decisive breaking point for relations, suggesting that Germany no longer provide Egypt with $130 million annually in aid.
"We must stipulate reversal of this verdict, and until this has occurred, there can be no more diplomatic relations with this country," Gauweiler told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the newspaper Die Welt that the verdict was scandalous.
Anger over the verdicts is expected Wednesday in Washington, when the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing about NGOs in Egypt. Among those scheduled to testify are four officials from the organizations whose employees were prosecuted.
The subcommittees chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., was among the members of Congress who said the Egyptian verdict should lead the U.S. to re-evaluate its aid program for the government of President Mohammed Morsi.
We can no longer allow American dollars to go to the Morsi regime unconditionally, Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., offered a similar assessment. This was a sham trial from the start. If this decision stands, not a penny more of U.S. taxpayer money should go to the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Cairo.