White House hopeful Newt Gingrich likened Cairo’s apparent plans to put 19 Americans on trial over charges of illegal funding of aid groups to the Iran hostage crisis, as an Egyptian military delegation abruptly cancelled its scheduled meetings with U.S. lawmakers in Washington.
“The Obama administration is appeasing the elements that oppose us,” Gingrich said, deriding the Arab Spring for bringing “radical” Islamists to power in Egypt after the overthrow of U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak.
“In Egypt you now have Americans being held hostage,” told a rally in Minneapolis ahead of Republican nominating caucuses there Tuesday, according to AFP.
“This is intolerable. This resembles Jimmy Carter and the Iranian hostage crisis.”
Some 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days after the U.S. embassy in Tehran was stormed and occupied during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
The crisis undermined the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and the hostages were not released until moments after President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, was inaugurated.
Gingrich, who often compares himself on the campaign trail to Reagan, said Obama’s foreign policy mirrored Carter’s “weakness.”
“If I were president, the message to the Egyptian government this evening would be quiet, firm, unequivocal; and I suspect that by sometime tomorrow morning all the hostages would be on an airplane coming home,” the former House speaker said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday warned Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr that the United States is reviewing aid to Egypt -- $1.3 billion last year -- over the recent crackdown on pro-democracy activists.
A judicial source in Cairo told AFP 44 people, including Egyptians, would be tried over alleged illegal funding of aid groups.
The offices of Freedom House and the International Republican Institute were among 17 local and international NGOs raided in December by Egyptian authorities as part of a probe into alleged illegal funding.
Among those barred from leaving the country is the Egypt director of IRI, Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Secretary for Transportation Ray LaHood.
Meeting with U.S. lawmakers called off
Meanwhile, an Egyptian military delegation abruptly cancelled its meetings with U.S. lawmakers to return to Cairo on Monday after warnings from both Congress and the White House that Egypt’s crackdown on NGOs could threaten the annual U.S. military aid.
A spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy confirmed that the delegation had cancelled its meetings this week with U.S. lawmakers, but gave no reason, according to Reuters.
Last week, the Egyptian army delegation met State Department officials who outlined both the U.S. position on the pro-democracy non-governmental groups and the new conditions that Congress recently imposed on American military assistance.
The resulting dispute has strained ties between Cairo and Washington, which backed the overthrow last year of Egypt’s longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, upon whom it relied for decades to uphold a peace treaty with Israel vital to U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
The Egyptian delegation had been scheduled to see Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, among others in Congress this week.
Senate aides said they did not know why the meetings were cancelled.
The U.S. senator who wrote the conditions placed on U.S. military aid to Egypt this year warned that “things will be a lot worse” for Egypt when Congress makes aid decisions for 2013 if Cairo does not demonstrate a commitment to democracy.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign aid subcommittee, suggested that he would not favor continuing U.S. military aid to Egypt, even with conditions, if it continued its crackdown on local and U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups.
“I’m not going to ... say, keep on funding this, funding money that reflects the assumption that they are committed to democracy, if they are not,” Leahy told Reuters at the Senate.
Under the conditions written into the fiscal 2012 spending bill that Congress passed in December, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must certify that Egypt’s military-led authorities are meeting benchmarked steps toward democratic reform before the $1.3 billion in military aid -- the usual amount Washington has provided in recent years -- is released in fiscal 2012.
The conditions say that Clinton must certify that Egypt is “holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.”
Leahy said he had to “really fight the administration” of President Obama to get those conditions placed on the aid for fiscal 2012, which began last October and ends Sept. 1.
“Now everybody is glad it was done that way because it gives us, to the extent we have any leverage, that's where the leverage is,” Leahy told Reuters.
At the White House, Carney said the administration continued to communicate to the Egyptian government its “grave concerns” about the crackdown on pro-democracy groups.
The individuals involved “have done nothing wrong. Their only assignment is to support Egypt in its transition to democracy.”
“Many of these groups have worked in Egypt for several years, and so their activities are not new. Moreover, they also served as observers for the recent parliamentary elections at the request of the government of Egypt,” Carney said.