WASHINGTON – The United States must "re-evaluate" its ties with Egypt over Cairo's apparent plans to put dozens of pro-democracy activists, including 19 Americans, on trial, a senior US senator said on Monday.
"This is not the way an ally should be treated. I believe that we should re-evaluate the status of our bilateral relationship during this transition period," Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said in a statement.
Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was "totally unacceptable" for Egypt to prosecute the activists on charges of illegal funding of aid groups.
"These organisations, which have supported Egyptian citizens' own struggle for representative democracy and freedom, have been targeted by those in the holdover regime who fear change," he said.
The United States on Sunday demanded "clarification" from Egypt over its apparent plans, which threatened to further strain Washington's ties with Cairo's post-Arab Spring military rulers.
A judicial source in Cairo said 44 people, including Egyptians, would be tried over alleged illegal funding of aid groups, a day after the United States said it would review aid to Egypt, $1.3 billion last year, over the crackdown.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Monday defended both the US-based groups operating in Egypt and local organisations, saying they "play a very valuable role in the transition process and have done nothing wrong."
"These groups and the individuals associated with them do not fund political parties or individual candidates," Nuland told reporters.
"Many of these groups have worked in Egypt for many years, supported by the US government in order to promote democracy and free elections. There's nothing new in their activities."
Nuland warned that the move to take activists to court "can have consequences for our relationship, including with regard to our assistance programme" but added: "That is not what we want."
The offices of several local and international NGOs including Freedom Housee and the International Republican Institute were raided in December by Egyptian authorities as part of a probe into alleged illegal funding.
Then last month, Egypt barred some US members of the NGOs from leaving the country, including Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. American officials said "a handful" of the pro-democracy activists subsequently took refuge inside the US embassy, fearing arrest. AFP