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U.S. curbs aid to Egypt over human rights

After his first conviction in 2001, Ibrahim said  he believed he was prosecuted because the Ibn Khaldun Center, which he founded, published reports accusing the government of rigging the 1995 parliamentary elections.
After his first conviction in 2001, Ibrahim said he believed he was prosecuted because the Ibn Khaldun Center, which he founded, published reports accusing the government of rigging the 1995 parliamentary elections.  

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In protest over the conviction of human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Bush administration will not give Egypt aid beyond its annual $2 billion allotment, U.S. officials said Thursday.

"At this time we are not contemplating any additional funds for Egypt," said deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

He said the United States has "made very clear ... the Saad Ibrahim case needs to be resolved."

Ibrahim was convicted July 29 on a charge of defaming Egypt in a documentary and receiving grant money from the European Union without the Egyptian government's permission.

Mohamed El-Zorkany, charge d'affaires at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, said the U.S. decision to withhold new aid "is not a big deal" and would not affect the "base and solid ground" on which U.S.-Egyptian relations are based.

But he indicated Egypt is not happy with the Bush administration's criticism of its internal processes.

"We don't want to open a Pandora's box by criticizing the legal system of other countries," El-Zorkany said, noting that every country's legal system would be open to criticism if such actions became common. "We don't want to let the genie out of the bottle."

The move signals a shift by the Bush administration to push Egypt on its poor human rights record.

U.S. State Department report on Egypt's Human Rights Practices 

Although the case has long been a sore spot in U.S.-Egyptian relations, human rights activists and newspaper editorials have criticized the Bush administration for what they called a poor public response to Ibrahim's conviction.

Last month the State Department said it was "deeply disappointed" by the conviction of Ibrahim, a 63-year-old sociology professor at the American University in Cairo and an outspoken defender of democracy and human rights.

The United States and international human rights groups maintained that the retrial of Ibrahim, who holds dual U.S. and Egyptian citizenship, was politically motivated. His previous conviction was overturned in February.

The Bush administration has repeatedly made its concerns about the case known to the Egyptian government.

The administration's decision applies only to new aid to Egypt. Mubarak had asked the United States for $130 million in extra aid, citing a provision in the 1978 Camp David accords that entitles Cairo to aid commensurate with Israel's aid package.

Congress voted to give Israel $200 million in additional anti-terrorism funds, although President Bush rejected a $5.1 billion spending package that included the aid to Israel.

Egypt will continue to receive its current U.S. aid package of $2 billion per year.

"The United States will abide by our Camp David commitments," Reeker said, calling Egypt "a very close friend, a strategic partner and an important ally of the United States."

"Our relationship with Egypt remains strong," he said.

El-Zorkany said his country's relationship with the United States "has outlived so many differences and we expect them to overcome this storm."

He said the decision "does not affect the core of well-established assistance from the U.S. over the last 25 years."

"The administration wanted to communicate their disapproval and they did so in a way that doesn't really hurt us," he said.

He said the withheld funds would not affect Egyptian cooperation in the war on terrorism: "Our commitment is unwavering with the U.S. in the war on terrorism."

The State Department said U.S. consular officials would remain in contact with Ibrahim, who has a neurological condition that officials said contributes to an ongoing concern about his welfare.

According to El-Zorkany, there would be "no face-saving gesture" on the part of the Egyptian government to release Ibrahim; he must go through the appropriate appeals process.

"We don't accept anybody meddling in our affairs," he said. "Our judicial system is independent and will remain independent.

"We don't tamper with our ruling court," he said. "If we tamper with the court rules, that would be precisely against the democracy the U.S. is preaching."

The United States has repeatedly voiced concern about Egypt's human rights record. The latest State Department human rights report says the Egyptian government restricts freedom of the press and of civil rights advocates.

The report said Ibrahim's case has "had broad implications for freedom of expression and had a deterrent effect on the activities of human rights organizations."


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