Egypt arrests U.S. student, Aussie journalist

American student Aliya Alwi (left) and freelance Australian journalist Austin Mackell were arrested by Egyptian security forces Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, accused of offering bribes to Egyptians to protest against the country's military rulers.
Twitter/GRN Live

CAIRO - Egyptian authorities arrested an Australian journalist and an American student on Saturday on accusation of trying to bribe people to join a strike marking the first anniversary of Hosni Mubarak's ouster that demands a faster transition to civilian rule.

The accusation against the two reinforces the ruling generals' line that the strike and other protests against their handling of the post-Mubarak transition are the work of "foreign hands" and foreign finance.

The latest move against foreigners came the same day as the top U.S. general met with Egypt's military rulers as the two allies face rising tensions over a crackdown against Western-funded pro-democracy groups.

A spokesman for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said that he discussed "a wide range of issues related to the long-standing security relationship between our two countries, including the issue involving U.S. NGOs" with the head of Egypt's military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Egypt's criminal investigation of U.S. democracy advocates has prompted calls in Washington to cut the country's aid package.

A security official identified the two foreigners arrested as a U.S. student enrolled at the American University in Cairo and an Australian journalist. He said that their Egyptian guide was also detained in the city of Mahalla al-Kobra after residents in the city told police the three were handing out money to people in order to encourage them to participate in the strike, a security official said.

On her Twitter account, Aliya Alwi wrote that both she and freelance journalist Austin Mackell were being transferred to a military intelligence office in Tanta.

Earlier, she tweeted descriptions of witnesses "rounded up" to testify that the two were "offering money to youth to vandalize and cause chaos." One witness, she noted, was 8 years old.

Alwi also tweeted that while at a police, "The guys From the station in the room w us were watching a guy being tortured on cellfone, and laughing. Passing it around to us" [sic].

The security official said the three would be interrogated by the attorney general's office. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Aliya Alwi on Twitter
Austin Mackell on Twitter
The Moon Under Water (Austin Mackell's blog)

The arrests follow warnings late Friday by the country's ruling military council that Egypt faces "conspiracies "- a message activists say seeks to undermine their campaign aimed at pushing the generals to relinquish power.