U.S. Reconsiders Egypt Aid After NGOs Raided

There are calls on Capitol Hill to scale back U.S. military aid to Egypt. Congress is furious over Egyptian raids on American democracy promotion groups, and some lawmakers accuse the Obama administration of being too timid in its response. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, several U.S.-funded, non-governmental groups have had their offices in Cairo shuttered for more than a week.

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Pull back U.S. military aid to Egypt. That is the call from some on Capitol Hill these days. Congress is furious about raids last month by Egyptian security forces on pro-democracy groups in Cairo. The nonprofit groups include the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and the International Republican Institute. All these groups get U.S. funding and they're in the country helping monitor Egypt's parliamentary elections.

Some U.S. lawmakers say the Obama administration isn't coming down hard enough on Egypt in response to the raids. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Egypt is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. aid. Congressman Frank Wolf says it's time that Egypt understands there are strings attached.

REPRESENTATIVE FRANK WOLF: They have relied on this aid for years. We have given them over 50 billion dollars since the Camp David Accords.

KELEMEN: Congress now insists that aid can flow only if Egypt abides by its peace treaty with Israel and stays on a path to democracy. Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, says the crackdown on democracy promotion groups violates those conditions. He told the Obama administration there should be consequences and a much tougher response.

WOLF: This is weakest administration that I can remember in the last 30 years with human rights and religious freedoms, period.

KELEMEN: In his letters to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Virginia congressman calls for U.S. aid to be used as leverage to promote democracy in Egypt.

WOLF: Our embassy ought to be an island of freedom over there. The president ought to be speaking out.

KELEMEN: Up to now, it has been State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland speaking on behalf of the administration. In her toughest words to date, she blamed holdovers from the Hosni Mubarak era for raiding 17 non-governmental groups, taking computers, documents and even cell phones.

VICTORIA NULAND: Some of the most strident statements made by Egyptian authorities seem to be made by old Mubarak holdover types who clearly are not on the new page with the Egyptian people.

KELEMEN: The administration sent Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman to Cairo to try to resolve the dispute. The U.S. and the NGOs thought they would have had their property returned by now, according to Scott Mastic, the Middle East director for the International Republican Institute.

SCOTT MASTIC: None of that has happened. The office remains closed at this time. Things taken from us are being held at the ministry of justice. And, in fact, in the last week we've had staff that have been called in for interviews there.

KELEMEN: And those interrogations are expected to continue in the coming week. Mastic says the irony is he was in Cairo at the invitation of the Egyptian government to monitor parliamentary elections, even as authorities began investigating IRI's funding and legal status in the country.

MASTIC: We frankly were concerned about the reception that we might get given the sensational attacks and misinformation being spread about the organization. But by and large Egyptians that we interacted with were both positive about the election and very welcoming to the people that we had around the country.

KELEMEN: The National Democratic Institute, which also had its office in Cairo raided, said its election monitors were able to work, though some ran into hostile security and election officials. The other U.S.-funded organization under investigation in Egypt is Freedom House. Its president, David Kramer, came away from his trip to Cairo worried about the overall trends.

DAVID KRAMER: This is not just about Freedom House's ability to maintain an office there. This is about civil society in Egypt and its future.

KELEMEN: Kramer says he's getting support from the U.S. Embassy but could use more and tougher public statements from Washington.

KRAMER: Whatever gets the investigations closed down, whatever allows us to work in an unfettered manner, we should explore all possibilities.

KELEMEN: Kramer says he can understand why some lawmakers want the U.S. to reconsider the $1.3 billion a year it gives to the Egyptian military, which is overseeing Egypt's transition. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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