When Egypt raided the offices of American democracy promotion groups in December, warnings poured out of Washington: “Your $1.5 billion in annual aid isn’t as sacrosanct as you think it is.”
But Egypt has consistently upped the ante with the administration in this confrontation. The latest move came Sunday, with the military junta deciding to put 40 employees of these and other democracy promotion groups on trial – including 19 US citizens. Sam LaHood, the son of President Obama’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is one of a group of Americans currently living in the US Embassy to avoid arrest.
Mr. LaHood and a few of the other officials targeted by Egypt, which says it is investigating illegal foreign funding to political groups, have been barred from leaving the country. The threatened prosecutions are focused on 10 foreign and domestic groups, among them the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and Freedom House, all heavily financed by US taxpayers.
At the end of January, Senator John McCain, who is friends with the LaHood family as well as chairman of IRI, warned Egypt in stark terms: ”I have watched with growing alarm and outrage how the Egyptian government is treating US non-governmental organizations that are working peacefully and transparently to support civil society in Egypt.”
What may be behind the confrontation is the growing paranoia of Egypt’s ruling generals about continuing protests over military rule. The generals and their civilian supporters consistently warn that malevolent “foreign hands” are behind the protests. They could be prosecuting the NGOs to rally domestic support and redefine the protesters as working with foreigners against Egypt.