Sherif Mansour, one of the dozens of pro-democracy workers referred to trial in Egypt, says he stands unfairly accused of operating without a license in the country and of stirring up domestic unrest. Calling potential jail time a “small price to pay” to support an independent Egyptian civil society, Mansour is calling on Washington to use its $1.3 billion in annual security assistance to Egypt as leverage to pressure the ruling military council to drop the charges—and end its wider crackdown on civil-society groups.
Mansour, a senior program officer for Washington-based Freedom House, described a widespread crackdown on such groups in Egypt over the past few months in an op-ed in Foreign Policy. The current case against 43 civil-society workers—including 19 Americans—is politically motivated and vindictive in nature, Mansour said, initiated by the only senior official from former President Hosni Mubarak’s Cabinet to remain in power.
“After the events of the past few months, with U.S. organizations and citizens clearly targeted despite the United States' billions of dollars in military and economic aid to the Egyptian state, the ball is in America's court,” Mansour said. “It is time to make it clear to the Egyptian military that Congress and the White House will stop subsidizing repression in Egypt with U.S. taxpayer money, including the $1.3 billion in annual military funding. Leverage is useless if one chooses not to use it.”
“But more importantly, it's time to take a moral stand,” Mansour continued. “The military council thinks it can literally get away with impunity and cynically keep taking Americans' money. I say we call the generals' bluff.”
Mansour’s comments echo the tone on Capitol Hill in recent days since Egypt’s declaration that it intends to prosecute NGO workers from prominent American organizations--including the International Republican Institute’s country director, Sam LaHood, who is the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“Recent actions by the Egyptians call into serious question their commitment to democracy and their partnership with the United States,” Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement on Tuesday night. “The harassment of Americans who are in Egypt trying to help build their democracy is unacceptable. Not one more dollar should flow to the government of Egypt until the secretary of State can assure the American people that this issue is resolved.”
New conditions placed on military aid, devised by Sen Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, require the secretary to certify that Egypt is supporting the transition to civilian government and implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, religion, and due process of law.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said on Tuesday night that it is “unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars, taxpayer-funded equipment, and most importantly, U.S. citizens are the target of a politically motivated investigation.” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., along with Sens. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., also asserted that U.S. security assistance is on the line. “A rupture of relations would be disastrous,” they said in a joint statement, “and the risks of such an outcome have rarely been greater.”
An Egyptian military delegation that was slated to meet with some of these key lawmakers this week abruptly canceled, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey will travel to Cairo this week.