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Egypt To Try 19 Americans In NGO Dispute


The military-led government in Egypt, in a defiant gesture, says it will put on trial 19 Americans and some two dozen others, over work they've been doing to help Egypt in its transition to democracy. Those facing charges include the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, along with others working for nonprofits promoting civil society and good governance.

The accused have been forbidden to leave the country although apparently, several have left already and some are reported to have taken shelter in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

For more, we turn to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: What, exactly, are these Americans and nonprofit groups doing in Egypt?

NELSON: Well, many have been here for several years, trying to promote voter education - if you will. They've been - in the last parliamentary election, they were invited to do monitoring of elections. They've also been training candidates on how to gain votes, and how to get their message out, and even how to evade the media.

So they have been operating here, even though they were not officially registered as organizations here - even though they requested that official recognition. It was something that during the Mubarak era, was never given to them. It was sort of held as a card, if you will, that they would be - that would be played against them, if needed.

MONTAGNE: Well, then the current Egyptian government, which is dominated by the military, what is it saying is illegal about all of this, at this point in time?

NELSON: Well, the charges that have been filed against the 43 people, including 19 Americans, include establishing human rights organizations without permission of the government; funding certain movements in the election - it doesn't really specify what that is, at least according to the official media that's put this out - and also, supporting certain people to serve foreign interests in parliamentary and presidential elections.

What's not listed here, but something that the ruling generals have mentioned, is that they - they've been accusing foreign interests of sort of fueling the - or of spurring on these protests that keep going on here and that are occasionally violent, as the ones that are going on as we speak.

MONTAGNE: And this move, Soraya, is in effect the Egyptian government defying warnings by the U.S. government, members of Congress, saying that Egypt gets billions of dollars in aid from the U.S., and that holding these Americans and others is going too far.

NELSON: Certainly, there has been very, very clear anger expressed on the part of U.S. officials, as you mentioned. But what the Egyptians are saying is hey, you know - by doing this, they're saying, also, that this is our country. You say you want a democracy – I mean, this is something that the ruling generals and the defense ministry team that was just in Washington say; you know, these are independent judges; we have nothing to do with it. But they're also saying, you know, you need us as much as we need you and your money. I mean, this – we have a relationship with Israel that's very important to yo, and we're very important in the Arab world.

And so the - the back and forth, if you will, has not gone down. And in fact, it has escalated to this level that we see today, these very serious charges.

MONTAGNE: Looking ahead - do you think that those accused, especially these Americans, will in fact be put on trial?

NELSON: Well, at this stage, they seem very determined to make this happen. I mean, no one has been arrested yet, as we speak. But there, obviously, is some concern. Some of the Americans have already moved to the embassy. And at the moment, it's very difficult to find out what the next move will be. But there is great, great concern that this is going to move ahead fairly quickly.

MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, speaking to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.