Lawmaker plays down row with Egypt over activists

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 15, 2012 5:14 PM
Lawmaker plays down row with Egypt over activists

By Marwa Awad

CAIRO (Reuters) - A senior U.S. lawmaker visiting Cairo on Thursday played down the row between Egypt and the United States over pro-democracy activists charged with receiving illegal funds as a "bump in the road" that need not hinder their strategic relationship.

Democratic leader in the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, who was leading a delegation including four other senators, said the United States would continue to support Egypt as long as aid enhanced the country's stability.

Egypt has accused 43 foreign and Egyptian non-profit workers - including the son of the U.S. transportation secretary - of receiving illegal funds from abroad, carrying out political activities unrelated to their civil society work and failing to obtain the necessary operating licenses.

The case has underscored tension between the U.S. and the generals who took power when Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

"The NGO issue was a bump in the road. We have a lot in common with the Egyptian people and want to further their success. We do not intend to have it stand in the way of that," Pelosi told reporters after talks with Egyptian officials.

"The interest of Egypt and surrounding areas as well as the U.S. is well served by a strong and stable Egypt. To the extent that that assistance is in furtherance of that stability, we will certainly be there," House of Representatives Democratic leader Pelosi added.

The delegation met Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

Katatni told Reuters he and Egyptian lawmakers had told the delegation Egypt welcomed strong bilateral relations, but they must be beneficial to both countries and not undermine Egypt's national sovereignty.

The lawmakers said the U.S. backed Egypt's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to secure a $3.2 billion loan after a year of political and economic crisis since Mubarak was ousted.

On February 29, Egypt lifted a travel ban on the foreigners pending trial and eight Americans left the country, after calls in Washington for the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Egypt to be cut.

Some Egyptian politicians denounced Egyptian authorities for bowing to pressure from Washington.

Egyptian security forces raided the offices of 17 foreign based NGOs in December, including those of the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and Freedom House.

(This story corrects title of U.S. lawmaker in headline, lead)

(Editing by Andrew Roche)