Congress urged to cut U.S. aid to Egypt over prison sentences given democracy advocates

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Members of the House of Representatives said Wednesday that there is enough support in Congress to slow, if not halt entirely, economic aid to Egypt over that country’s conviction of 43 people who worked for non-governmental organizations that promote democracy.

“It is very important for those listening in Cairo, and for that matter, in the halls of our State Department, to understand that the tolerance for this here in the United States Congress, on a bipartisan basis, is next to nil,” Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-VA, said at a hearing of the House Foreign Relations subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa. “There will be strong reactions here, on both the military and economic front.”

Witnesses representing four of the groups whose employees were among those sentenced to prison by an Egyptian court earlier this month, including two that were closed permanently by the Egyptian government, urged committee members to cut off economic aid to Egypt to signal clearly that targeting foreign-funded democracy advocates was intolerable.

“The U.S. should reconsider delivery of aid to the Egyptian government until all 43 NGO workers are cleared,” said Charles Dunne, a former Foreign Service officer and the director of the now-closed Middle East and North Africa office of Freedom House, one of the organizations. He called on the United States to reassess its relationship with Egypt. “The relationship cannot be allowed to operate on autopilot given the dramatic political changes in Egypt and the region.”

Dunne, in particular, has a personal connection to the controversial court decision. “For the last year and a half, I was Defendant Number 30 in the case,” said Dunne, who served 24 years in the State Department. “Today I stand convicted, sentenced to five years in prison and a fine.”

All 43 defendants, including 16 Americans and two Germans, were sentenced to prison terms of from two to five years. All but one of the Americans fled Egypt before the sentences were handed down; the lone American who stayed behind left Egypt within hours of the verdict.

Despite spending much of his professional life in Cairo, Dunne said his return to Egypt is unlikely, and his career as a diplomat and international democracy advocate in jeopardy. He said the convicted workers who fled the country to avoid jail time left friends, family and opportunity behind.

“This move has far-reaching impact . . . it has ruined lives,” said Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists, another of the organizations whose staff had been targeted in the Egyptian crackdown on democracy advocates. “The personal toll cannot be underestimated.”

The other two groups represented at the hearing were the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. All four groups receive funding from the U.S. government, and the NDI and IRI, while uninvolved in U.S. politics, have links to the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively.

The witnesses also warned that the court’s verdict had political implications. They noted that the decision had implied a conspiracy on behalf of the U.S.-funded groups with Israel.

“Politics and not the law is what drove and decided this case,” said Dunne, arguing that the action required a political reaction.

The calls to cut off aid at the hearing calls contrast with the position of the Obama administration, which has expressed “concern” about the decision but rejected it as a turning point in U.S.-Egyptian relations.

Dunne disagreed.

“That’s a mistake. It really is a watershed moment,” he said. “Forty-three people have now been sentenced to prison in Egypt for implementing U.S. government-funded programs. That should be a wakeup call for the administration that not all is well in this relationship.”

Email: awatkins@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @alimariewatkins

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • GOP campaign committee has $31M to hold House

    The House Republican campaign committee says it raised almost $10 million in March and has $31 million in the bank to defend the GOP's majority.

  •  
First lady Michelle Obama, left, walks with President Barack Obama, and daughters Sasha and Malia, both partially obscured, from the White House to a motorcade to attend Easter services on Sunday, April 20, 2014, in Washington. The first family attended services at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington.

    Obama, family cause a small stir at Easter service

    President Barack Obama may have expected a quiet Easter, but his presence rallied a congregation eager to greet him and his family to the front of the church.

  •  
Retire U.S. Army Col. Conrad Reynolds participates in a debate between Republican Congressional hopefuls in Little Rock, Ark., Saturday, April 19, 2014. Three area seeking the GOP nomination in the race for Congress in Arkansas' 2nd district.

    3 vying for Republican nomination for House seat

    The three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for a central Arkansas congressional seat are running on vows to cut taxes and regulations in Washington, but split sharply on who would be the strongest candidate in this fall's election.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category