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Egypt Military Delegation Cancels Meetings With Senators Amid NGO Controversy

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Protesters clashed with Egyptian security forces in Cairo Monday.
Protesters clashed with Egyptian security forces in Cairo Monday.

WASHINGTON -- A delegation of Egyptian military officials in town for high level meetings with their American counterparts canceled a series of meetings on Capitol Hill at the last minute Monday.

The Egyptian officials were expected to meet with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Tuesday, but canceled after reportedly being recalled to Egypt. A spokesman at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington could not immediately be reached.

Representatives for McCain and Levin confirmed that the Egyptians canceled the meetings.

"My two cents is that they didn't have answers to the questions they would inevitably face, so they bolted," said a congressional staffer with knowledge of the planned meetings.

Legislators had pledged to use the meetings as an opportunity to directly confront the Egyptian representatives over a growing controversy about the treatment of international non-governmental organizations in the country.

In December, security forces raided the offices of several pro-democracy NGOs, including the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House, under the pretense of investigating whether the groups were operating illegally. Several NGO workers, including Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, have since taken shelter in the American embassy out of concerns that they might be detained.

Officials with the NGOs under investigation have increasingly shown reluctance to speak publicly about the investigations, reflecting, they say, growing concerns that the Egyptian government's position was more than just grandstanding.

"We continue to be extremely cautious right now with this," an official with one of the groups told The Huffington Post. "This is totally unprecedented for us. There's a real possibility now that they could be hauled into court and find themselves in a prison cell next to Hosni Mubarak."

The cancellation of the Capitol Hill meetings is less about the protocol breach than the symbolism, analysts say, in part because those meetings have long been a routine and unremarkable part of the friendly relationship between the U.S. and Egypt.

The U.S. has provided more than $1 billion in security assistance to the Egyptian military per year for the past three decades. But American officials now say the aid might be in jeopardy given the way the military has handled Egypt's transition since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak last year.

Even as they condemn the Egyptian government's latest transgressions, American officials insist they will continue working to find an amicable resolution to the brewing crisis.

"We're continuing to talk to everybody that we can," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland earlier Monday. "We're just going to continue to try to find a way forward on this that gets us back to a normal situation where we can all support the democratic transition in Egypt."

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