Egyptian Judge Says Foreign Groups Have Been Working There Illegally

Foreigners who have been working for international organizations in Egypt are in the country illegally and have been engaging in “political activity,” a judge in Cairo just told reporters.

As we’ve previously reported, Egyptian authorities are preventing some foreigners who work for such organizations — including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — from leaving the country. Authorities are looking into what they say is evidence that such groups have given support to opponents of the ruling military council that took control after the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime early last year.

The organizations have protested, saying they are in Egypt to do such things as promote democracy, but not to aid the opposition.

NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports that the judge just declared that the investigation indicates that many of the non-Egyptians working for the organizations are in the country on tourist visas, which he said is illegal given the work that they do.

Al-Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, who has been tweeting from the news conference, reports that Judge Sameh Abu Zeid also “says these organizations repeatedly applied for licenses, were turned down, ignored that & worked anyway.”

The groups, however, have said in the past that such applications were “pending” and that despite their best efforts they couldn’t get the government to act on them.

Rageh adds that the judge said last December’s “search of NGOs office[s] was ‘legal,’ with warrant & shouldn’t be described as ‘raid.’ “

The U.S. has protested Egypt’s move to prevent Americans who work for the organizations from leaving the country. Rageh says the judge called a letter to that effect from the U.S. ambassador to Egypt “unacceptable.”

If convicted, the judge added, according to Rageh, those working for the organizations could face prison sentences of up to five years.

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