Pelosi: US-Egypt relations strong despite NGO spat

March 15, 2012 - 1:26 PM
Mideast Egypt

In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, left, meets with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's ruling military council, in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, March 15, 2012. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says U.S.-Egypt crisis over nonprofit group workers is a "bump" on the road and says relations between the longtime allies will remain strong. Pelosi is leading a congressional delegation in her visit to Cairo Thursday. (AP Photo/U.S. Embassy, HO)

CAIRO (AP) — Ties between the U.S. and Egypt, severely tested when Egypt charged Americans working for democracy-building groups with illegal activity, remain strong, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Relations between Egypt and the U.S. plunged when Egypt charged 16 Americans working for democracy-building groups with illegal activity and refused to let those who were in the country leave. American lawmakers threatened to cut more than $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt as the crisis devolved into the worst spat between the longtime allies in years.

The tension was alleviated somewhat when Egypt lifted a travel ban on the Americans, effectively allowing them to leave the country and avoid trial.

But the case is still not closed, and one of the American defendants has decided to remain in Egypt and face trial along with the rest of the Egyptian defendants. The departure of the Americans has also sparked a row in Egypt. Democracy advocates accused the ruling military council of fabricating the case in order to attack democracy groups and then later pressuring judicial authorities to let the Americans leave the country.

Pelosi, who is leading a congressional delegation to Cairo, said the case will not be a barrier to relations between the two countries.

"The NGOs was a bump in the road," she told reporters. "We don't intend to have it stand in the way."

The delegation met with the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and lawmakers.

Pelosi said she received assurances from Tantawi that power will be transferred to a civilian authority once a new president is elected.

Egypt's presidential elections, anticipated to be the first free and fair multi-candidate presidential vote in Egypt's history, is set to take place on May 23-24. The new president will be announced on June 21.

Many democracy advocates and revolutionary youth are skeptical that the ruling military council will fully withdraw from politics.

Egypt's military generals took power after the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak who stepped down after an 18-day mass uprising. But the generals have been criticized for failing to restore security, pushing back the date they will transition to a civilian government and human rights abuses committed during their tenure.