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Egyptian court decision troubles world leaders

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 8:36 p.m.

CAIRO — An Egyptian court's decision to convict 43 democracy proponents — along with a proposed Egyptian law that would restrict how nongovernmental organizations here operate — has spurred a chorus of concern from European leaders, members of the U.S. Congress and even the United Nations that Egypt's first democratically elected government is attacking basic human rights.

One German politician said he was outraged and disturbed by the sentences, which were handed down to staff members of various nongovernmental organizations, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, two groups that received money from Congress.

In a statement, the United Nations said the verdict was “a sign of an increasingly restrictive environment for civil society in the country.” Several members of Congress said the United States should reconsider its $1.3 billion in annual aid in light of Egypt's perceived recent crackdown on civic society organizations, which are commonly called nongovernmental organizations.

There has been one notable exception to the international response: the Obama administration, which said it was “deeply concerned” by the sentences but suggested it was not a watershed moment in relations with Egypt. Other nations and international groups called for the courts to reconsider the verdicts or said recent actions by Egypt should lead to limits on international aid; the Obama administration said Egypt should work with civic groups.

Anger over the verdicts is expected in Washington, where the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing about NGOs in Egypt. Among those scheduled to testify are officials of a nongovernmental organization that employed Americans convicted in the Egyptian case.

The subcommittee's chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., was among the members of Congress who said the Egyptian verdict should lead the U.S. to re-evaluate its aid program for the government of President Mohammed Morsy.

“We can no longer allow American dollars to go to the Morsy regime unconditionally,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., offered a similar assessment. “This was a sham trial from the start. If this decision stands, not a penny more of U.S. taxpayer money should go to the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Cairo.”

There's little sign that the Obama administration is considering a major change in U.S.-Egyptian relations or funding. Observers say the United States may have another motive: not wanting to disturb relations so much that the Egyptian government rattles its relationship with Israel.

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