Clinton on Egypt's Trial of Americans: ‘We Have Problems With a Lot of Our Friends Around the World’

February 27, 2012 - 5:22 AM
Egypt protesters

Egyptian protesters chant anti-military ruling slogans during a trial of employees of pro-democracy groups charged with using foreign funds to foment unrest in Cairo on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

(CNSNews.com) – Sidestepping a question linking Egypt’s prosecution of American civilians with the fact it has received billions of dollars in U.S. military aid for 30 years, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday, “We have problems with a lot of our friends around the world.”

The politically-charged trial of 43 non-governmental organization staffers, including 16 Americans, opened in Cairo on Sunday – and was quickly adjourned until April 26.

The NGO employees are accused of receiving unauthorized foreign funding, operating without licenses and undermining Egypt’s sovereignty. None of the Americans appeared in court. Most are not in Egypt, but the seven who are have been barred from leaving the country.

The incident has placed unprecedented strains on the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, with senior American officials warning that $1.5 billion in military and economic aid could be at risk.

In a CNN interview while visiting Morocco on Sunday, Clinton was asked about the matter and stressed the importance of the bilateral ties.

“We are having intense talks at the highest levels of the Egyptian government because, obviously, we’d like to see this resolved. Our relationship with Egypt is, I think, very important to both countries, and we have a lot of work to do together,” she said. “We want to support the new Egyptian government, we want to support the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and we have to resolve this matter.”

“But this is a country – I mean, how do you feel about this?” the interviewer pressed. “Thirty years you’ve been supporting the Egyptians, and this is what they do to the Americans?”

“Well, I don’t want to go making this a dramatic confrontation,” Clinton replied. “It’s a problem. We have problems with a lot of our friends around the world. We’re trying to resolve it.”

Following the trial adjournment, Clinton was asked again about the case – during a media appearance with her Moroccan counterpart – but said she would hold off on further comment “until I am fully briefed and have reached my own understanding of what was and was not decided today.”

The Americans work for the U.S. government-funded International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, the democracy advocacy group Freedom House, and an organization that trains journalists. One of them, Sam LaHood of the IRI, is the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month, Freedom House President David Kramer said the implications of the case went beyond the bilateral relationship.

“Regimes around the world are following very closely what the Egyptian authorities are able to get away with in their efforts to rein in civil society and go after American-funded non-governmental organizations,” he said.

“We recognize that authoritarian leaders in other nations are closely watching the outcome of the current standoff between civil society and Egyptian authorities with long term consequences,” IRI president Lorne Craner told the lawmakers.

Meanwhile, in a further sign that Muslim fundamentalists will likely dominate Egypt’s political future, results released at the weekend show that Islamist parties captured control of a majority of the 180 seats being contested in Egypt’s upper house of parliament, the Shura Council.

The Muslim Brotherhood won 58 percent of the seats and the Salafist Nour party took 25 percent, according to the country’s electoral commission.

The result follows Islamists’ victories in earlier elections for the lower house of parliament, where the Muslim Brotherhood controls 47 percent of the seats and the Nour party

The Shura Council will ultimately have 270 members – 180 directly elected and 90 to be appointed by Egypt’s president, following presidential elections due to be held in the summer.

On Saturday, March 3, the two chambers are expected to select a 100-member assembly to draft a new national constitution.