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Egypt's NGO Prosecution Prompts Reassessment

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(WASHINGTON) --The prosecution and subsequent departure of seven American non-governmental organization workers in Egypt require a reassessment of the U.S. relationship with the government of Egypt, according to Eric Trager, the Ira Weiner Fellow at The Washington Institute.

“We need to evaluate whether Egypt's government is malicious or incompetent -- whether it is deliberately instigating conflict, or just incapable of managing its own affairs,” Trager says.

The seven Americans were prevented from leaving the country as the Egyptian government pursued a prosecution against them for working with “unregistered” foreign organizations. Their trial opened on Monday, Feb. 27 and was quickly suspended, only to be thrown into further doubt by the abrupt resignation of its three judges. Both the resignation of the judges and the release of the NGO workers seem to have been prompted by substantial pressure from the United States, including a threat to withhold $1.3 billion in military aid from the country.

“The effectiveness of U.S. pressure demonstrates that Washington can use military aid as leverage with the Egypt's current government,” says Trager. “Our engagement with Cairo should be based on realpolitik, not the hope that the government will be motivated by democratic ideals.”

“The fact that the NGO workers were brought to trial in the first place shows that Egypt is moving in an undemocratic direction,” he says. “And the fact that the Egyptian government attempted to use this case to enhance its domestic image demonstrates that it is deeply unreliable at best, or increasingly hostile at worst.”

Trager, Institute Arab Politics Program Director David Schenker, and Kaufman Fellow David Pollock are available for additional comment through [email protected].  Trager recently wrote about the NGO trial for The New Republic.

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The Washington Institute is an independent, nonpartisan research institution that advances a balanced and realistic understanding of U.S. interest in the broader Middle East. Drawing on the research of its fellows and the experience of its policy practitioners, the Institute promotes informed debate and scholarly research on U.S. policy in the region.