CAIRO — Lawyers for defendants in Egypts case against American nongovernmental organizations charged with operating illegally in the country accused the government Tuesday of delaying the release of key documents the lawyers say are needed to defend their clients.
The case against employees of the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and other groups working to train political parties nearly ruptured U.S.-Egyptian relations last fall before Egypt agreed to allow the American defendants, including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, to leave the country.
The lawyers complaints come at a time when many Egyptians suspect that the ruling military council is orchestrating recent events, including the life sentence handed out to former President Hosni Mubarak even as his aides were acquitted in the deaths of demonstrators, to give an appearance of reform while maintaining the status quo.
Sixteen Americans are among the 43 defendants who face charges that they illegally received foreign funds in the case, which a Cairo criminal court adjourned until July 4. Only two Americans, however, are in Egypt to face prosecutors.
One of those, Egyptian-American Sherif Mansour, a former employee of Washington-based Freedom House, was brought to court Tuesday in handcuffs and under heavy guard. Mansour was detained Sunday at Cairo International Airport as he returned to Egypt from the United States. The judge, Makram Awwad, ordered Mansour released until a verdict is reached. The other defendants already had been ordered released, including the other American whos still in Egypt, Robert Becker, a former employee of the National Democratic Institute.
Khaled el Shalakani, a defense lawyer for four Egyptian employees of the International Republican Institute, demanded that the court order the Foreign Ministry to produce the files it had kept on the institutes efforts to register in the country. Shalakani said the files would show that the institute had filed regularly since 2006 seeking permission to operate in the country. He said the government had made copies of such files available for all the organizations being prosecuted except for the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, which are chartered by the U.S. Congress and are affiliated with the U.S. Republican and Democratic parties.
They were operating publicly through official channels, Shalakani told McClatchy. He said the file proves IRI had nothing to hide.
The move against the NGOs has been a sore point with U.S. officials and average Egyptians. American officials long have complained that Egypt refused to formally grant permission for the NGOs to operate so the government could control their activities, while Egyptians have complained that allowing the Americans to leave before the case was settled showed undue U.S. influence over the government.
Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.