Egypt to try 19 Americans for 'illegally' receiving foreign funds to promote democracy
Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and 18 other Americans have been referred for prosecution by an Egyptian judge for what the government is saying includes receiving foreign funds illegally and being involved in banned activity.
The State Department can not confirm the reports at this time.
In all, Egyptian officials say 44 non-governmental organization workers will be put before the court after investigating judges claimed they had reason to try the democracy and rights workers.
The move is likely to further sour relations between Egypt's military rulers and the United States, the Arab nation's chief western backer for more than 30 years. The decision came just after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Saturday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on the sidelines of the 48th meeting of the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
Sam LaHood is head of the Egypt office of the Washington-based International Republican Institute. Two other American NGOs, Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute, along with more than a dozen foreign groups, were raided in late December as part of a move that American officials say is unhelpful as Egypt transitions from an autocratic rule over the past 30 years.
All 19 of the U.S. aid workers sought shelter in the U.S. embassy in Cairo more than a week ago after they were denied the opportunity to leave the country. LaHood said at the time that the group was "expecting the worst."
"If it does go to trial, a trial could last up to one year in a case that's as wide-ranging as this one is. But the penalty for that is six months to five years in jail so these are very serious charges," he told Fox News.
The State Department has not said that by seeking refuge at the embassy the workers would be immune from arrest but it is an option the U.S. may try to execute if it decides not to cooperate with Egyptian authorities.
There may be several reasons for this action by the Egyptian government, none of them good. They may be trying to force an open break with the US, thus currying favor with the mobs in the streets. Or, it may simply be a propaganda effort to deflect blame from the military for the crackdown in recent months. The military has made it a point to blame "foreign hands" for the violence and demonstrations.
Whatever the reason, a diplomatic storm is about to break and US-Egyptian relations are right in its path.