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Story Publication logo February 15, 2012

Egypt: Americans Blamed for Unrest


Media file: IMG_0900.JPG
Protesters marched from various Cairo neighborhoods to Tahrir Square Feb. 3 after the Port Said soccer riot left more than 70 people dead. Image by Erin Banco. Egypt, 2012.

Egyptian authorities this week released Derek Ludovici, a student at the American University in Cairo (AUC), after detaining him for two days in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla in what appears to be a disturbing tactic by the country's military rulers to blame outsiders—Americans in particular—for the continuing unrest in Egypt.

Ludovici, a U.S. citizen, was arrested last week with Australian freelance journalist Austin Mackell and interpreter Aliya Alwi during an organized day of civil disobedience that marked the one-year anniversary of former President Hosni Mubarak's ouster.

According to Alwi's Twitter account, the three were charged with "inciting protest and vandalism." AUC, which had three students arrested by security forces in November, did not release a statement about Ludovici, but authorities said that Ludovici and Mackell will not be deported. AUC receives major funding from the U.S. government.

The day of civil disobedience was part of a larger strike initially called for by the German University in Cairo last week. Several other universities, including AUC, Cairo University and Ain Shams University, supported the decision and canceled classes.

The students are demanding an end to military rule, a transfer of power to civilians, an end to the military trials of civilians, and the acceleration of trials of those responsible for the killing demonstrators during the protests that led to Mubarak's departure.

The strike culminated in combined marches to the Ministry of Defense Tuesday where protesters called for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been running the country since last February departure, to hand over power to civilian authorities.

The military council's Facebook page last week accused AUC of planning to "dismantle Egypt with Egyptian hands."

The page implied that AUC was using public figures like Alaa Abd El Fattah and the sister of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian who was allegedly beaten to death by security forces after being arrested in 2010, to convince students to participate in civil disobedience.

In response, the AUC student union issued a statement rejecting the accusation.

"The AUC students who call for the strike, who are more than 40, have started to publicly organize various events on campus and will continue raising the awareness of students, professors and employees at the university to allow each one to decide the effectiveness of their participation in the general strike, which is a peaceful constitutional means of protesting," the statement read.

The strike comes after a week of tension between the government and civilians following the post-match fight between rival soccer groups in Port Said that left more than 70 dead. AUC and the German University in Cairo each lost a student during the incident.

"The youth want SCAF out of the picture and they want justice against the perpetrators of all the massacres of their colleagues," said Ismail Tammam, a student at Ain Shams University.

Thousands protested across Egypt in places such as Cairo and Suez in the days following the game, accusing the military of playing a part in the violence. Witnesses confirmed to several media outlets that security officials did little to stop the fighting on the field and allowed armed fans into the game.

The protests escalated into clashes between security officials and civilians in which 12 people were killed. Officers used both live ammunition and tear gas against the rock-throwing protesters.

The SCAF Facebook page also touched on an increasingly controversial topic: the alleged connection between the political unrest in Egypt and U.S. non-profit groups.

The page asked: "Is AUC one of the tools of the American administration and its security bodies working in Egypt? Does it have a role in a scheme aiming to occupy Egypt by 2015, as the media claim?"

Last week Egyptian government officials charged 43 people, including 19 Americans with allegedly manipulating the Egyptian political process. The Americans work for federally funded groups such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

Egypt's international cooperation minister, Fayza Abouelnaga, who worked in the Mubarak regime, testified in October during the investigation of the U.S. non-profit groups. She accused the U.S. of deliberately seeking to create "chaos" to prevent Egypt from prospering. Her testimony was released this week and broadcast on state TV.

"Evidence shows the existence of a clear and determined wish to abort any chance for Egypt to rise as a modern and democratic state with a strong economy since that will pose the biggest threat to American and Israeli interests, not only in Egypt, but in the whole region," she was quoted as saying.

Most of the Americans charged in the investigation are now living outside Egypt, but as many as six, including Sam LaHood, the Egypt chief of the Republican Institute and the son of Ray LaHood, secretary of transportation and a former Republican congressman, remain inside Egypt and are prohibited from leaving. They have taken shelter at the U.S. Embassy.

If convicted of participating in foreign financing of unlicensed non-profit organizations, the charged could face up to 5 years in jail. Egypt's Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri has repeatedly ignored warnings from President Obama and Congressional leaders in the U.S. that continuing with the trial could lead to a withholding of $1.55 billion in annual aid.

"I am convinced that this is all just flexing muscle. I don't think there is a real case there," Yaccoub said. "These tactics are not brand new."

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