Egypt to try 19 Americans
Cairo - Ignoring a US threat to cut off aid, Egypt has referred 19 Americans and 24 other employees of non-profit groups to trial before a criminal court on accusations they illegally used foreign funds to foment unrest in the country.
Egypt's military rulers had already deeply strained ties with Washington with their crackdown on US -funded groups promoting democracy and human rights and accused of stirring up violence in the aftermath of the uprising a year ago that ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The Sunday decision to send 43 workers from the various groups to trials marks a sharp escalation in the dispute.
Egypt and the United States have been close allies for more than three decades, but the campaign against the organisations has angered Washington, and jeopardized the $1.5bn in aid Egypt is set to receive from the US this year.
On Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Egypt that failure to resolve the dispute may lead to the loss of American aid. The Egyptian minister, Mohammed Amr, responded Sunday by saying the government cannot interfere in the work of the judiciary.
"We are doing our best to contain this but ... we cannot actually exercise any influence on the investigating judges right now when it comes to the investigation," Amr told reporters at a security conference in Munich, Germany. A few hours later, word of the referral to trials came.
The Egyptian investigation into the work of non-profit groups in the country is closely linked to the political turmoil that has engulfed the nation since the ouster of Mubarak, a close US ally who ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years.
Egypt's military rulers have been under fire by liberal and secular groups for bungling what was supposed to be a transition to democracy after Mubarak's ouster. The ruling generals who took power after the uprising, led by a man who was Mubarak's defence minister for 20 years, have tried to deflect the criticism by claiming "foreign hands" are behind protests against their rule and frequently depict the protesters as receiving funds from abroad in a plot to destabilise the country.
Those allegations have cost the youth activists that spearheaded Mubarak's ouster support among a wider public that is sensitive to allegations of foreign meddling and which sees a conspiracy to destabilise Egypt in nearly every move by a foreign nation.