CAIRO: Egypt dismissed Washington’s latest criticism of the recent crackdown on prominent media figures and the closure of a human rights group as interference in the country’s local affairs.
A foreign ministry statement condemning the US criticism said that “The statement issued by the White House spokesperson over press freedom and civil society is interference in our domestic affairs that is unacceptable to Egypt.
The White House expressed “deep concern over the crackdown even as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was having dinner with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in New York.
The White House Press Secretary Dana Perino had said Monday that “these latest decisions appear to contradict the Egyptian government s stated commitment to expand democratic rights, AP reported.
“Journalists and NGOs in Egypt and elsewhere should be permitted to carry out their peaceful work in a hospitable environment free from fear of harassment, reprisal, intimidation and discrimination, she added.
Speaking on behalf of the Bush administration, Perino urged the Egyptian government to “expand protections for journalists and lift the restrictions on NGO activities, including limits on organizations ability to accept foreign funding.
The United States is concerned about the sentencing of four newspaper editors headed by Al-Dustour editor Ibrahim Eissa to a year in prison. The editors are charged with insulting the president, his son and the ruling party. Eissa also faces a separate charge of spreading the rumours over Mubarak’s ailing health.
Former leader of the opposition Kefaya movement George Ishaq previously told Daily News Egypt that “Ibrahim Eissa is not to blame for this, but the official body concerned [the presidential office] is to blame for not responding.
“Mubarak’s health is not a joke. If the presidency had made an immediate announcement about his health none of this would have happened, he added.
Additionally, the closure of an NGO called the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid for alleged financial irregularities has also caused concern in Washington. The NGO was the first organization to become involved in a lawsuit against a State Security officer for accusations of torture.
The case ended on Sept. 5 with the acquittal of the officer.
Analysts believe that this latest crackdown is an indication of “uncertainty over who will become president after Mubarak, according to an AP report.
On Tuesday, political dissident and sociology professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim said that rather than criticism from the US, stipulations should be set on US aid to Egypt calling for reform.
“All of the aid should be conditioned on benchmarks and a roadmap for democratic reform in Egypt, he told Reuters by phone from Doha, Qatar, where he has been for the past four months out of fear of returning to Egypt.
“My lawyers have advised me not to come back because there are nine filed requests [from members of the ruling party] with the attorney general in Egypt to investigate me, Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim was imprisoned in 2002 on charges of forging signatures to create his Ibn Khaldun center and defaming Egypt’s reputation abroad. His health deteriorated considerably while in jail.
An American citizen, Ibrahim has often called on the US to take a harder stance on its regional ally concerning its human rights record and the pace of its democratic reform.
“My agenda is reform and democratisation of my country. I want everything done to bring about that objective, he said.