Some members of the U.S. Congress are calling into question aid to Cairo, after a court there sentenced to jail 16 Americans who work for non-governmental organizations based in Egypt.
The NGOs were convicted of using foreign aid to foment unrest.
Leaders from four of the organizations testified to a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee about how the U.S. government should proceed in its relationship with Egypt’s government.
“We must stand in solidarity with those who continue to seek the ideals of the revolution,” the chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said during the hearing.
“It’s no longer acceptable to send unconditional aid to a regime that persecutes, prosecutes, and convicts those who seek to aid Egyptians seeking freedom and true democracy for all of Egypt,” she added.
“The relationship can’t be allowed to operate on auto-pilot,” said Charles Dunne, one of the convicted members of the organization Freedom House. “Politics is what drove this case.”
Dunne told members of Congress that Freedom House believes the United States should suspend its aid to Egypt until there is a resolution to the issue.
However, he and the other witnesses agreed that Washington needs to continue engaging with Egypt as it goes through a democratic transition.
“It’ll be a long process and a messy process, but it does require outside support,” Dunne said.
Earlier in June, Egyptian Judge Makram Awad handed down a verdict against 43 foreign aid workers, including the 16 Americans, surprising many of the NGOs with the stridency of his sentencing.
He gave all of the defendants jail time ranging from one to five years.
Funding “has become a new form of control and domination, a soft imperialism... pursued by donors to destabilize, weaken and dismantle beneficiary countries,” Awad said in his verdict.
The judge accused the non-profits of involvement in a neo-colonial plot in partnership with Israel.
The three other NGO directors did not want to weigh in on whether the United States should suspend aid to Egypt.
Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists, said his organization does not take stances on political issues, including funding.
“The ICFJ isn’t a political organization… so how on Earth do we even relate to any of these charges?” said Barnathan.
Ros-Lehtinen introduced a bill in January making aid to Egypt conditional on the government’s track record on political freedom and human rights.
Though the bill has not been passed by Congress, many members agree that the United States needs to take a stronger stand against what they say is the Egyptian government’s abuse of power.
Regardless of Congressional censure, however, the country will continue to receive military aid.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed a waiver in June guaranteeing $1.3 billion for Egypt’s armed forces.
The witnesses also gave their opinions on Egypt’s democratic transition, and how the United States should manage its relationship with the government.
“The Egyptian transition, at this point, can only be described as a mess,” said Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute.
The transition in Tunisia and Libya has been more successful than in Egypt, he added.
“Egypt is worse than it was” under former President Hosni Mubarak, said Dunne.
The NGOs want the U.S. government to seek legal pardon so they can resume their work in Egypt.
Their offices have been closed since Dec. 2011, when officials raided their offices and froze all their assets.
“Our organizations do have willing partners in Egypt... We look forward to the day when we can cooperate with them once more,” Dunne said.