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The Middle East, explained

Congress: NGO chiefs testify on Egypt aid (VIDEO)

The heads of four NGOs under investigation in Egypt testify in front of Congress.
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President of the International Republican Institute Lorne Craner testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC last year. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The heads of the four US NGOs ensnared in a legal debacle over American aid in Egypt testified to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today, in a session that drew frank questions from representatives over the future of financial assistance to Egypt. 

In one lighter admission, the president of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Kenneth Wollack, said the infamous maps discovered in a raid on one of the offices, and that investigating judges said indicated the NGOs planned to divide Egypt, were actually maps printed and distributed by the Egyptian government's own High Elections Commission (HEC). 

Photographs of mosques and churches, which Egyptian government officials have hinted proves a plot to sew sectarian strife, were used by one organization in their religious tolerance portion of their civic education class. 

More than 40 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, were recently referred to a Cairo court for their work with politically-minded organizations one Egyptian official said had tried to "hijack" the Egyptian revolution.

Fayza Aboul Naga, the Mubarak-era Minister of International Cooperation, was named by the head of the International Republican Institute (IRI), Lorne Craner, as the "ringleader" of the NGO crackdown, but said the issue now goes much further than her and is calling into question the entire US-Egypt relationship.

Investigating judges said there will likely be criminal charges, and staffers could face prison time, Craner said.

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Egypt: Christian expulsions a test for Islamist government

Muslim mobs torched the home of a local Coptic Christian man.
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Coptic Egyptians attend a service at the Abbassiya cathedral in Cairo on Oct. 12, 2011 to mourn those killed during recent clashes with security forces. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
Eight Coptic Christian families were evicted, and their properties put up for sale, following weeks of sectarian tension over rumors of a romantic affair between a Muslim man and a Christian woman.
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John McCain: An unlikely Brotherhood ally (VIDEO)

Republican Senator John McCain takes on Fox News commentator Sean Hannity's characterization of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood as "radical Islamists."
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Arizona Republican Senator John McCain visits Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square last year, after a popular uprising ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

I bet Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood never thought they'd find an ally in an aging Republican lawmaker (neither did I, really). 

But when on Feb. 13, Sean Hannity, the uber-conservative Fox News and radio personality, slammed the Brotherhood as radical Islamists that shouldn't receive a dollar of US taxpayer money on his nightly show, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain stepped up to the plate to set Hannity straight:

"First of all, Islamic extremists are not in power. The power is still being wielded by the military junta that took over, by the way who are, they and the last vestiges of the Mubarak regime, keeping Americans in a situation where they have to go to the US embassy. So, it’s not the Muslim Brotherhood who’s doing this, it’s the remains of the Mubarak regime." 

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Did the US hijack Egypt's revolution? And other conspiracies

The woman behind Egypt's NGO crackdown says US tried to hijack the revolution.

Today it emerged that the woman leading the charge against foreign NGOs in Egypt, Fayza Aboul Naga, told prosecutors the US tried to hijack the country's revolution by creating chaos through the funding of political organizations. 

The comments, part of her Oct. 2011 testimony to judges investigating foreign-funded NGOs, were reported today by the state-run news agency, Middle East News Agency (MENA). 

"The United States and Israel could not directly create a state of chaos and work to maintain it in Egypt, so they used direct funding to organizations, especially American NGOs, as a means of implementing these goals," AFP, quoting MENA, reported her as saying. 

It's an increasingly familiar line pushed by former regime officials, alluded to by Egypt's ruling generals, and echoed by state-run media in the post-uprising period: that foreigners or foreign powers seek to thwart Egypt by fostering strife in the great nation.

Now the government has named civil society organizations as the vessels of that strife. 

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Egypt: Arrest of foreign journalist highlights rise of xenophobia

One foreign journalist and an American student are reportedly being charged with incitement in the flashpoint Egyptian town of Mahalla.

For six hours yesterday, Aliya Alwi live-tweeted her interrogation and arrest by Egyptian police and later military in the Delta city of Mahalla.

She traveled there with an Australian journalist and an American student to cover a general strike in one of the country's most restive towns. According to her tweets, they are being transferred to a regional military intelligence office to be charged with "incitement." This is extremely troubling.

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In Egypt, Islamists shut down TV production

Islamist students halt the production of a new television series on their campus -- because they don't like the female costumes.
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A woman wearing a full Islamic veil walks on front of Egyptian police and soldiers. Pro-Islamist students this week shut down a television production because the actresses were dressed indecently. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of Islamist students managed to halt the filming of a new television series at an Egyptian university after protesting over the "indecent" clothing worn by the actresses, AFP reports

The production company, Misr International Films, said it was forced to leave Cairo's Ain Shams University after students belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization whose political arm now holds the most seats in parliament, said they refused to allow the filming to move forward if the womens' costumes were not changed. 

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Egypt: Prominent activist detained ahead of strike (UPDATE)

University professor and leading activist, Sameh Naguib, is detained by army ahead of mass strike planned in Egypt.
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Holding up a sign listing the cost of living, thousands of the Egyptians teachers protest during a strike in front of the Prime Minister's office in downtown Cairo in Sep. 2011. Tomorrow, dozens of groups and universities will begin an open strike against the military-run government. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

One of Egypt's leading activists was detained by the army in the seaside city of Alexandria today, fellow activists said. 

Sameh Naguib, a prominent member of the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) group and sociology professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC), was reportedly participating in an anti-government march in Egypt's second-largest city when he was attacked by plainclothes individuals who later turned him over to the army. 

UPDATE: Fellow RS activists say on Twitter he was released from army custody this evening. However, there is no news yet about his condition or why he was detained.

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Egypt: Americans could face jail time... for having maps

Egypt's ministry of justice gave a press conference outlining some of the charges against non-profit workers, including 19 Americans. One of the key pieces of evidence? Maps.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) looks at a map of the Israel-Egypt border area during a flight in a military helicopter January 21, 2010 near the Egyptian border, in Israel. Judges investigating non-profits accused of receiving foreign funds in Egypt said one of the key pieces of evidence was the discovery of maps of Egypt inside the NGO offices. (Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

CAIRO, Egypt — Judges leading the high-profile investigation against non-profit workers in Egypt, including 19 Americans, announced today at a press conference some of the evidence they have implicating the organizations they say are guilty of criminal activity here.

One of the key pieces of evidence? Maps. Of Egypt. Scribbled on in English.

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Live feed from Syria gives window into crackdown (VIDEO)

A live stream video from Homs, Syria shows images and sounds of shells as government crackdown intensifies.
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An image grab taken from footage filmed in Homs on January 18, 2012 and received by Agence France Presse (AFP) on January 19, shows a Syrian army tank deployed in the Bayada district of the flashpoint central Syrian city. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday this blog posted an embedded livestream video from the flashpoint Syrian city of Homs, currently under intense bombardment from government forces, according to reports

Later on Tuesday, the livestream was taken down, severing the broadcast and disabling our video and link to the feed. 

The user, a resident of Homs, is broadcasting again from the neighborhood of Baba Amr, which has seen some of the heaviest shelling. 

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Egypt: Would moving the interior ministry halt the violence?

A parliamentary commission recommends moving Egypt's interior ministry building following clashes in central Cairo.
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An Egyptian parliamentary committee suggested moving the country's interior ministry to another location to help prevent clashes in downtown Cairo, near Tahrir Square. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

A parliamentary commission established to investigate recent clashes between protestors and police in downtown Cairo suggested today that Egypt's interior ministry building be moved from its location in the center of the capital. 

But would that halt the violence? 

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