Longtime Allies, Egypt And U.S. Now Have Differences

The U.S. is insisting that Egypt establish a full-fledged democracy and move away from military rule. Here, an Egyptian woman covers her head in a national flag as she demonstrates in a pro-democracy rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Jan. 27. i i

hide captionThe U.S. is insisting that Egypt establish a full-fledged democracy and move away from military rule. Here, an Egyptian woman covers her head in a national flag as she demonstrates in a pro-democracy rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Jan. 27.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. is insisting that Egypt establish a full-fledged democracy and move away from military rule. Here, an Egyptian woman covers her head in a national flag as she demonstrates in a pro-democracy rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Jan. 27.

The U.S. is insisting that Egypt establish a full-fledged democracy and move away from military rule. Here, an Egyptian woman covers her head in a national flag as she demonstrates in a pro-democracy rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Jan. 27.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

For many years, top Egyptian officials coming to Washington could expect a warm welcome, with few points of contention.

But for a group of Egyptian generals now in the U.S., several points of friction are likely to dominate the agenda between the longtime allies.

Egypt doesn't like the new conditions U.S. lawmakers have placed on American aid. And the U.S. is furious with the way Egypt has been treating U.S. groups that promote democracy. At least three Americans have taken shelter in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland calls it a unique situation. Several Americans haven't been able to leave Egypt, so now the U.S. Embassy is offering them refuge.

"We do not feel that they are in physical danger at the moment. That is a different matter than whether they are being persecuted in the Egyptian judicial system," she says.

Egyptian authorities raided 17 nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, in December, including three U.S.-funded groups. And despite offering assurances to the U.S. at the time that the crackdown would end, the legal troubles have only intensified in recent weeks.

Nuland says this will be a major topic for the visiting Egyptian delegation.

"This particular visit was planned before we ended up in this particular situation with the NGOs in Cairo," she said. "However, you can be assured that in every meeting they have with the administration, and I would venture to guess in every meeting that they're going to have with Congress, that this situation will come up."

U.S. Conditions On Military Aid

Lawmakers have placed conditions on the $1.3 billion a year that the U.S. gives to Egypt's military. In order for that money to continue to flow, the Obama administration has to certify that the country is staying on the path to democracy. And that's unlikely, says Michele Dunne, an expert on Egypt at the Atlantic Council.

"Under current conditions it would be extremely difficult for the administration either to certify that the Egyptian government is meeting the conditions or to use the national security waiver," she said. "Members of Congress are very angry about what has happened, and they really see this closing down of the NGOs, and particularly the American NGOs, as being a direct threat and an insult to the United States."

Some lawmakers complained last week about several former members of Congress who had been lobbying on behalf of the Egyptian government. Over the weekend, Egypt and its high-paid lobbyists parted ways.

Dunne says that was yet another sign of a downturn in relations. She says it was unwise for the Egyptian military to pick this fight with the U.S. and put U.S. aid at risk.

"We are seeing an Egyptian government headed by military officials who are much less sophisticated politically, and I think they have sort of gotten themselves into a situation here, a conflict with the U.S., and maybe not sure how to get out of it."

Dunne doesn't see any quick solutions, especially with Egypt's minister of international cooperation continuing her campaign to control the democracy aid dollars that flow into Egypt.

The State Department says Egypt can resolve this by closing investigations into NGOs, lifting a travel ban that has stranded some Americans and letting these groups register and operate as they do in many other countries around the world.

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