Trial Date Slated for 43 Activists Accused in Egypt

By Hiel, Betsy | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

Trial Date Slated for 43 Activists Accused in Egypt


Hiel, Betsy, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


CAIRO -- Egypt has set a Feb. 26 trial date for 43 American, European and Egyptian pro-democracy workers, escalating its confrontation with the West.

The activists, charged with meddling in politics, face five years in prison.

Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at Washington's Georgetown University, called the trials "an intentional escalation" by Egypt's ruling military council.

"It signals to the U.S. administration to 'get out of the way, stop meddling in our affairs,' especially in the next six months when the new constitution is written and some kind of deal will be hammered out with the Muslim Brotherhood over a political system," Shehata said.

An Egyptian political analyst, who blogs under the name of FoudMD, said the case is the military's way "to send the U.S. a message: 'We have stood with you for 30 years and we are going to show you what it is like if Egypt is not on your side.'"

He declined to use his real name because of the sensitivity of the situation.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was to meet officials here on Monday. He has said he is resisting congressional calls to cut $1.3 billion in American aid, mostly to Egypt's military.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which controls Egypt's parliament, has said it will reconsider a 3-decade-old treaty with Israel if U.S. aid is cut.

'Temperature rising'

The case against one German and four U.S. nongovernmental organizations has provoked the worst relations in decades between Washington and its strongest Arab ally.

The American NGOs are the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House and the International Federation of Journalists.

Les Campbell, NDI's Middle East director, said, "Every day I wake up and expect ... rational people will find a way of bringing down the temperature.

"Every day the temperature seems to rise, so I think that is worrying."

Campbell is here in support of NDI staff.

The 19 Americans charged include Sam LaHood, the IRI's Cairo director and son of the U.S. Transportation secretary.

The others accused include Germans, Serbs, Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, a Romanian and 16 Egyptians.

LaHood and several other Americans reportedly took refugee in the U.S. Embassy here.

Feeding xenophobia

Unclear is whether the pro-democracy workers will appear in court and be held in Egypt's infamous courtroom cages.

Investigative Judge Ashraf Al Ashmawy contends the 43 defendants worked without licenses and used foreign funds. …

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