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Senator: Risk “Serious Impact” On Bilateral Relationship After Egypt Convicts U.S. Activists

Forty-three democracy promotion activists, including 16 Americans, have been sentenced to jail by an Egyptian court after being rounded up in a government crackdown on non-governmental organizations. The Americans had taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo after government raids.

Washington was ultimately forced to pay $#330,000 in bail for 15 American citizens to be allowed out of the country. Those 15 were sentenced in absentia today. One of them is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. An additional 28 Egyptians and foreigners linked to the NGOs were also convicted in absentia to terms of up to 5 years.

One American, Robert Becker, a former National Democratic Institute employee, chose to stay in the country and face trial. He was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) called on the government to reverse the convictions, lest they erode the U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relationship:

“I am deeply disappointed by today’s conviction of 43 non-governmental organization workers by an Egyptian court,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel on the Near East, said in a statement Tuesday. “These individuals sought to support Egypt’s nascent democratic process, based on the universal principles that so many struggled and died for in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011.”

“This conviction, which included several American citizens, will have a serious impact on our relationship with Egypt,” Casey continued, urging President Mohammed Morsi’s government to reverse it.

In addition to sentences ranging from one to five years in prison, the court ordered the closure of the NGO’s involved, which include the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House. Meanwhile, prominent Egyptian activist Ahmed Douma received a six-month suspended sentence for insulting the president, becoming the first prominent critic of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi to be convicted on the charge. The Washington Post recently editorialized against moves by the Morsi government:

The Obama administration and other Western governments are increasingly concerned that Egypt’s shaky Islamic government will exhaust the country’s foreign reserves rather than adopt the painful austerity measures necessary to win fresh funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the danger of an economic collapse is real, it is not the only threat the West should be focused on. Cairo is also on the verge of adopting laws that would cripple the country’s fragile new democratic order and drastically reduce the West’s ability to influence Egypt’s course.

[Photo: BotMultichillT / Wiki Commons]