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Director of USAID in Egypt leaves post

The USAID director in Egypt abruptly flew back Thursday to Washington after less than a year on the job, the first major casualty of a dispute between the two longtime allies over American funding for pro-democracy groups.

Jim Bever left his post the day after the Obama administration chastised Egypt's leaders for stoking anti-American sentiment during the country's rocky transition to democracy. In the rare public rebuke, the U.S. said it had noticed increased criticism of U.S. aid and motives.

A U.S. Embassy statement said Bever will be "returning to Washington to take on new responsibilities and prepare for his next deployment." It did not say why his tour was cut short.

The criticism of the U.S. is a sign that Egypt's military rulers are growing anxious over foreign aid they fear could strengthen the liberal groups behind Egypt's uprising at the expense of the military's own vast power. Those youthful, pro-democracy groups have grown more critical of the ruling generals over what they see as the slow pace of the transition away from authoritarian rule.

Bever has been at the center of a dispute over funding since March, when USAID -- the American government organization that distributes international development aid -- placed advertisements inviting nongovernmental groups in Egypt to apply for U.S. funding.

The ads attracted hundreds of applicants, who lined up outside USAID offices in a Cairo suburb. Over the next few months, the American aid organization allocated millions of dollars to the groups.

The aid upset the government. It insisted that the funding must go through official channels, not directly to the groups. Those restrictions applied during the rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, whose government tightly controlled the process.

Last month, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Assar, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, gave a speech in Washington and criticized the United States for funding pro-democracy groups without submitting to Egyptian government supervision. He said it violated Egyptian laws for funding nongovernmental organizations. "It is a matter of sovereignty," he said.

Elizabeth Colton, spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Egypt, told the Associated Press on Thursday that the U.S. is not interfering in Egypt's politics.

"Egyptian groups that apply for and receive grants from the United States are engaged in activities that are politically neutral. No funds are provided to political parties," she said.

Egyptian authorities this week opened a formal investigation into the funding issue, according to a judicial official involved in the process.

Some generals on the ruling council have accused two key reform groups of following a "foreign agenda" and of receiving funding and training from abroad, claims that suggest plotting against the country with foreign help.

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