More than 40 members of the House of Representatives have signed letters warning that U.S. aid to Egypt could be jeopardized if the country's military leadership refuses to show respect for human rights and "support a transition to a democratic system under civilian control."
A diverse coalition signed the letters, ranging from Republican Reps. Frank Wolf, Va., and James Sensenbrenner, Wis., to Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer, Md., and Maxine Waters, Cal., sharply criticized the Egyptian government over Dec. 29 raids and ongoing investigations of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The raids targeted NGOs including the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House. They "constitute an attack on Egyptian society writ large and are completely unacceptable," the lawmakers wrote in nearly identical letters to Egyptian military boss Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The timing of the raids "is especially ironic as the NDI and IRI were accredited by Egyptian authorities to observe the just-completed parliamentary elections," the letter said. They note that 400 Egyptian groups "face similarly politically-driven allegations and investigations."
Several staff members of those NGOs have been told they cannot leave the country while the investigation continues. That includes the IRI's Sam Lahood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood.
The letters do not mention that aspect, but do warn that Cairo would pay a heavy price if it continued harassing the NGOs. If the issue isn't satisfactorily resolved soon, it would become "increasingly difficult for congressional supporters of a strong U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relationship to defend current levels of assistance to Egypt – especially in this climate of budget cuts in Washington," according to the lawmakers.
They urged Cairo to "immediately allow these offices to reopen, return all confiscated property, end the investigations into these organizations and other civil society groups and allow NGOs to carry out their activities in an unfettered manner."