“Mubarak is still ruling in some ways and is still blocking the emergence of a new regime in Egypt,” said Abdullah al-Ashaal, a former deputy foreign minister. “Faiza Abou el-Naga is one of the tools in that.”
This week, 43 employees of nongovernmental organizations, including 19 Americans, were charged as part of an investigation of civil society groups. They included the country directors of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), the latter of which is led in Cairo by the son of the U.S. transportation secretary.
Abou el-Naga, the public face of the inquiry since it was launched by her ministry last year, has defended the probe, which has jeopardized up to $1.5 billion in U.S. aid. She insists that the Egyptian government has a right to expel unlicensed foreign organizations that she says could further destabilize a country reeling from the aftershocks of a revolution. Speaking to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, she said the government was not trying to stifle civil society, but rather to enforce policies that protect Egypt’s sovereignty.
Senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group whose political party won the most seats in parliament, have endorsed the crackdown. Egypt’s ruling generals also appear to be backing it.
But Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday called the probe a “dangerous game that risks damaging both Egypt’s democratic prospects and the U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relationship.” In a further sign of strained relations, a delegation of Egyptian military officials cut short its trip to Washington this week, canceling meetings on Capitol Hill.
U.S. officials who backed democratic reform in Mubarak’s Egypt over the past decade had been hopeful that his fall would spell the end of Abou el-Naga’s career and the rigid restrictions the regime placed on American aid earmarked for pro-democracy programs. U.S. trainers and funding would be sorely needed and welcome in the new Egypt, they reasoned, as nascent political parties and those that had been oppressed by the autocratic government geared up for the country’s first free elections.
“When the regime changed, we all thought, Faiza will be gone,” said a senior U.S. official who worked in Egypt, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be interviewed. “Man, were we wrong. She’s more powerful than ever.”