Egypt to put NGO workers, including Americans, on trial
The decision drew condemnation from US groups who voiced concern for staff in Egypt and from Germany.
"This represents another escalation by the Egyptian government in its war on civil society -- and it's not just US organisations, it's Egyptian organisations," said Charles Dunne, director for Middle East and North Africa programs for Freedom House.
The offices of Freedom House and the International Republican Institute, were among 17 local and international NGOs raided in December by Egyptian authorities as part of a probe into alleged illegal funding.
"At the moment we are trying to ascertain what has happened and what Freedom House staff, if any, were affected," said Mary McGuire, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based organisation.
"I find it astounding that they would do this while you still have a delegation of Egyptian general officers here in the United States to talk to Congress and the administration about continued US military funding," he said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle slammed Egypt's decision.
"It is unacceptable to harm organisations that have a real international mission which they take on seriously," he told ARD television according to an early release transcript
"We shall act, in the framework of our foreign policy towards Egypt, in such a way as to ensure that political organisations that have a worldwide reputation are allowed to continue working as they have done."
The aid workers are accused of "setting up branches of international organisations in Egypt without a licence from the Egyptian government" and of "receiving illegal foreign funding."
Egypt's ruling military council, which took power after an uprising toppled veteran president Hosni Mubarak, has accused foreign groups of funding street protests against them.
The move will further strain US-Egypt ties after last year's raid during which Cairo prosecutors confiscated computers and paperwork from NGO offices.
Egypt then barred some US members of the NGOs from leaving the country and American officials said "a handful" took refuge inside the US embassy.
On Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Washington's aid to Egypt would be reviewed, highlighting the continued deadlock over Cairo's crackdown.
In a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Clinton said she "had a chance to once again express our deep concerns with what is happening to our NGOs."
"We do not believe there is any basis for these investigations, these raids..., the seizure of their equipment and certainly no basis for prohibiting the exit from the country by" NGO members, Clinton said.
"We have have worked very hard the last year to put into place financial assistance and other support for the economic and political reforms that are occurring in Egypt," she said.
"And we will have to closely review these matters as it comes time for us to certify whether or not any of these funds from our government can be made available under these circumstances," Clinton added.
Senior Egyptian military officers visited the United States last week in a bid to defuse the row.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta telephoned Egypt's military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and asked him to lift the travel ban on the American citizens.
Among those barred from leaving the country is the Egypt director of IRI, Sam LaHood, the son of US Secretary for Transportation Ray LaHood.
Egypt's ruling military have accused "foreign hands" of sowing unrest in the country amid a spike in tensions between the military and activists who want a speedier transition to civilian rule.
Egyptian officials told AFP the probe was launched in July by the ministry of international cooperation after US ambassador Anne Patterson said the US distributed US$40 million (RM120.4 million) to NGOs since Mubarak's fall.
The military enjoys close ties with Washington and receives more than US$1 billion in US aid annually.