Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi
Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi Reuters

Egypt, seemingly determined to expel all foreign agencies from the country, is going to prosecute 43 international NGO employees on criminal charges.

American non-government organizations have a long history in Egypt and have provided millions of dollars in aid annually, but the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has launched a crackdown against a number of international organizations.

Nineteen Americans, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who had been working with NGOs in Egypt, have been accused of illegally funding pro-democracy groups and of training activists.

The workers, many of them employees of the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, were barred from leaving Egypt late last month after being accused by the SCAF of failing to obtain government spending approval. One month earlier, 17 NGO offices were raided for the same reason, and security officials confiscated cash and documents.

U.S. President Barack Obama sent U.S.-based NGOs in Egypt $65 million immediately following the revolution. While not all of the subsequent expenditures received the okay from the SCAF, the money went to economic development and the country's budding political parties, among other places.

According to the NGOs, their funding was approved by the Mubarak regime but not renewed after the Egyptian president's forced resignation.

We're being accused of things we've never done, IRI President Lorne Craner stated last month.

We are told we have operated without registration, and that is true because we filed our registration papers five and a half years ago. We were told the papers are complete and we're still waiting.

In total, the U.S. sends more aid to Egypt than any other country except Israel, including an annual $1.3 billion in military aid, essentially the SCAF's paycheck. U.S. Foreign Military Financing programs have provided Egypt with fighter jets, tanks, helicopters, surveillance aircrafts and anti-aircraft missiles.

The U.S. government has already said it would re-evaluate its military aid if the Americans were not allowed to go home.

The absence of a quick and satisfactory resolution to this issue will make it increasingly difficult for congressional supporters of a strong U.S.-Egypt bilateral relationship to defend current levels of assistance to Egypt, especially in this climate of budget cuts in Washington, members of Congress said to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

We continue to think that for the health of Egypt's democracy, this is not just about our NGOs, it's also about the right of Egyptians and Egyptian civil society to operate freely and to support their democratic process through non-governmental organizations, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters after the travel ban was imposed.

December's NGO raid and the criminal charges are connected to two related trends in Egypt: an increasing xenophobia and the SCAF's unwillingness to cede power to a new, democratic government.

“The Egyptian authorities are using a discredited Mubarak-era law to prosecute non-governmental groups while proposing even more restrictive legislation,” stated Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“The government should stop using the old law, halt the criminal investigations, and propose a law that respects international standards.”