The United States is “fully supportive” of the efforts exerted by the Egyptian people to build a democratic system and is looking forward to continue the “strategic partnership” with the incoming government, a top U.S. official told Al Arabiya.
Egypt “is going through a transition period, look at Egypt today versus Egypt one year, one year and a half ago,” Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview.
Following weeks of pressure from Washington, Egypt allowed 13 pro-democracy activists, including six Americans, to fly out of Cairo on Thursday, sparking outrage in Egypt.
The activists were on trial on accusations of receiving illicit foreign funds to operate unlicensed NGOs, causing a crisis in relations between the United States and its close Middle Eastern ally.
U.S. officials have made clear that the $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt has been put at risk by the case.
The travel ban was lifted after the trial judges recused themselves last week. A new court will hear the case on March 8, according to the Egypt’s official MENA news agency.
However, the United States said it remained concerned over the issue, but stressed its commitment to strong ties with Egypt.
“We do want to be partners with them [Egyptian people] over the long term. Now we have had to spend a lot of time, for example, talking to people on Capitol Hill to remind people of the long-term interest that we have in Egypt and the long-term benefits that we think that both countries have,” Feltman said when asked whether the latest NGO-related crisis could have irreparable damage to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship.
The U.S. top official underlined that the American NGOs “have a good track record of working globally.” He said that “a couple of these NGOs were invited by the Egyptian government to serve as witnesses during the Parliamentary elections.”
When asked on whether U.S. aid to Egypt was safe or not, Feltman said: “Congress has appropriated the funds, but Congress has also added certain requirements. We have to take those requirements seriously and we’ll be looking at this in the weeks ahead.”
Feltman pointed out that Washington is fully committed to doing what it can to be a good partner, with Egypt. “And that doesn’t mean just U.S. assistance. That means trying to help the Egyptians achieve their aspirations more generally.”
Egypt is currently suffering from a critical financial situation, given the drop in tourism revenues and investment. “We want to work with the IMF and others to be able to help the Egyptians avert any kind of fiscal crisis. So the partnership we have with Egypt isn’t confined to fiscal year 2012 assistance, it’s a broad partnership.”
(Written by Abeer Tayel)