US senators threaten aid halt over NGO closures in Egypt

A number of US senators threatened on Wednesday to cut off aid to Egypt if its ruling military council fails to unconditionally reopen recently closed NGOs.

Eleven members of the Senate have written a statement addressing Supreme Council of the Armed Forces leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, denouncing security raids on 17 NGO offices in December, which included Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute.

The closure of the NGOs followed investigations by Egyptian authorities into allegations that some organizations are receiving illegal foreign funding. The raids prompted local and international criticism.

The senators demanded the reopening of the NGOs which, they said, promote democracy and human rights and assist Egyptians in achieving democratic reforms and other revolutionary goals. According to a copy of the statement obtained by Al-Masry Al-Youm, the senators said closing the NGOs contradicts the SCAF's pledge to hand power to a civilian government.

The senators urged the foreign relations and budget committees to immediately push Egypt to reopen NGO offices, halt interrogations and legally register them so that they can resume work. The continuation of restrictions and persecution of both Egyptian and foreign NGO employees will be viewed with concern, especially in light of the aid the US provides to Egypt.

The statement also said that Egypt's state-run media outlets should not put NGO workers at risk by adopting an aggressive tone toward the organizations.

Egypt receives approximately US$1.3 billion in annual military aid from the US, in addition to economic aid.

Copies of the statement have been sent to Tantawi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and Egyptian Ambassador to the US Sameh Shokry.

The Senate members said that during budget discussions, Congress demanded that Clinton ensure that the Egyptian government is committed to adopting policies that protect the freedoms of expression, association and religion.

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