The Cairo offices of at least five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were raided on Thursday afternoon by officials from Egypt’s public prosecution office backed up by police and military personnel.
The five NGOs who confirmed that they were raided by the authorities were the Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP); the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory; and the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House.
Several human rights lawyers who are following developments in the raids that are underway told Ahram Online that Ahmed Ali, staff-member at the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, was arrested during the authorities clampdown on his organisation.
While it remains unclear why the five organisations were raided, local human rights activists fear the move may be part of a wider government crackdown targeting critics of violations committed by the former regime or by Egypt’s ruling military council.
"The government never dared do such a thing in the Mubarak era," said prominent Egyptian human rights activist Negad El-Bourai on Twitter.
The raids follow a spate of recent allegations by the government that several NGOs operating in Egypt, as well as a handful of recently established political parties, had received illicit, unregistered funding from abroad.
"We’re still not sure of anything," said Emad Mubarak of the Cairo-based Freedom of Expression Center. "But the government’s excuse might be that they’re auditing the NGOs’ files following charges that several of them had received illicit foreign funding."
In October, Minister of Justice Mohamed Abdel Aziz El-Guindy announced that he had commissioned two judges to investigate foreign funding allegations. At the time, El-Guindy said that any organisation found guilty of the practice would be charged with “betraying Egypt by deliberately promoting political strife.”
Since then, several political movements and activist groups have fended off accusations that they had been recipients of unregistered foreign financing, including the prominent April 6 youth movement.
A few weeks after the February ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) allocated some $65 million towards "democratic development” programmes in Egypt.
In July, the government of former prime minister Essam Sharaf drew up a fact-finding committee – headed by El-Guindi – to investigate charges of foreign funding for unlicensed local and international NGOs. Sharaf’s committee sought to blacklist any NGO or political party found to have requested financial assistance from USAID.
It remains unclear, however, whether or not Thursday’s raids were related to the committee’s findings.
As of 6pm on Thursday afternoon, MENA, the official Egyptian news agency, reported that 17 various NGO's offices were raided by the government after the public prosecutor issued injunctions against them.
Lawyer and rights activist Malek Adly stated on Twitter that affected NGOs planned to convene a press conference at 9pm Thursday at Cairo’s Egyptian Centre for Human Rights to discuss the raids by security forces.
Would-be presidential contender Mohamed ElBaradie on Thursday stated on Twitter that human rights organisations represented “the guardians of nascent freedom.” He added: “Efforts to suffocate them will be a major setback and will surely backfire.”
The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), for its part, issued a statement describing Thursday’s apparent security crackdown on civil society organisations as an attempt "to intimidate activists and rights advocates, gag their mouths and freeze their activities in support of human rights and against repression and torture.”
The ANHRI statement continued: “The Mubarak regime did not dare undertake such practices prior to the uprising. There is a systematic campaign against these organisations, which was prepared for in advance, while the media paved the way for it a long time ago. The goal of this campaign is clear to everyone, which is to prevent us from exposing the violations and oppressive practices which are still being committed until this moment.”