Ernesto Londono and William Wan
February 6, 2012
CAIRO — Nineteen Americans will face criminal charges as part of a probe of the funding of pro-democracy groups, Egyptian officials announced Sunday, a provocative move that could deprive Egypt of crucial aid from the United States and upend one of Washington’s most important bilateral relationships.
The development added pressure to an already strained relationship between Egypt’s ruling generals and the Obama administration. The targets of the investigation include well-connected American groups, among them one led in Cairo by Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Sam LaHood reportedly was among those facing charges.
U.S. officials have sternly warned Cairo in recent days that the roughly $1.5 billion in aid earmarked for Egypt this year could be withheld if the politically charged investigation isn’t resolved quickly. But the tone of Sunday’s announcement suggested the Egyptian government is doubling down on what has become a high-stakes diplomatic dispute.
Washington enjoyed a good relationship with Egypt’s generals during the reign of President Hosni Mubarak, when the military was seen as a bulwark against Islamic extremists and the Mubarak regime was Israel’s most important Arab ally. But those ties have soured over the past year as the generals have struggled to govern a country reeling from near-daily protests, economic woes and an unprecedented level of violence. The military leaders have often accused foreigners of working covertly to destabilize Egypt during the difficult transition to civilian rule.