U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday a crackdown by Egypt’s military rulers on U.S. and local pro-democracy groups could jeopardize aid for the Arab nation.
Egypt, among the largest recipients of U.S. aid since its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, has been told by U.S. lawmakers assistance may be cut because of its treatment of the groups, some of whose U.S. staff have been barred from leaving the country and have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
“We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt. We do not want that,” Clinton told reporters in Munich where she met Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on the sidelines of an international security conference.
“We have worked very hard the last year to put in place financial assistance and other support for the economic and political reforms that are occurring in Egypt and we will have to closely review these matters as it comes time for us to certify whether or not any of these funds from our government can be made available under these circumstances.”
An military council took control a year ago of the most populous nation in the Arab world after mass protests helped bring down its long-time authoritarian leader and U.S. ally, former President Hosni Mubarak.
The U.S. Congress approved $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt for the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, $250 million in economic aid and up to $60 million for an “enterprise fund.”
For the military aid to flow, Clinton must certify the Egyptian government is supporting the transition to a civilian government, including holding free and fair elections, implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, religion, and due process of law.
Clinton said the United States saw no justification for raids on the offices of NGOs in Egypt, the seizure of their papers and other material, and the decision to bar a handful of their U.S. workers from leaving the country.
Egyptian officials say the crackdown is part of a probe into foreign funding of NGOs. But civil society groups say the ruling military council ordered the raids to harass activists who were at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak revolt and are now demanding the army hand power immediately to civilians.
In a sign of congressional anger, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs an influential Senate subcommittee that oversees some foreign aid, on Friday warned the Egyptian military “that the days of blank checks are over.”
Senior State Department officials met a visiting Egyptian army delegation in Washington on Thursday and Friday to outline both the U.S. position on the NGOs and the conditions Congress recently imposed on future U.S. military assistance.
The Egyptian Embassy in Washington had no immediate comment on the meetings on Friday. The military delegation is expected to meet U.S. lawmakers next week to discuss the situation.