Egypt MPs call for ban on foreign funding of NGOs, hitting back at Kerry comments

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 20 Mar 2016

Many Egyptian MPs demanded Sunday that the NGOs law be amended to ban foreign funding of human rights organisations

Egyptian parliament (Reuters)
Egyptian parliament (Reuters)

Egyptian MPs accused Sunday US Secretary of State John Kerry of interferring in the country's internal affairs following his statements about "the deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt," demanding that a strict ban be imposed on foreign funding of NGOs operating in Egypt.

In a statement Sunday, the Conservatives Party (with six MPs in Egypt's parliament) described Kerry's statement as representing "a flagrant interference with the internal affairs of Egypt" representing "a violation of the basic rules of diplomacy and international law."

The statement said that "instead of hailing Egypt's decision to reopen investigations into the illegal foreign funding of human rights NGOs, Kerry opted to take this as a deterioration in the human rights situation."

"The investigation should rather send a positive signal to American taxpayers that their government does not spend money on bogus human rights projects in foreign countries like Egypt," said the statement, adding that, "But it seems that Kerry works for political reasons rather than for the interests of the American people."

The Conservatives Party, led by oil business tycoon Akmal Qortam, stressed that it fully supports the decision of judicial authorities to reopen an investigation into the foreign funding of NGOs in Egypt. "This should be a transparent investigation to make sure that the money donated to NGOs is not spent on fake projects or spent in violation of this country's legal and constitutional rules," said the party's statement.

It added that "previous investigation showed that foreign funding for NGOs had become a source of profiteering and a fertile ground for corruption for a handful of activists who monopolise this activity."

"In light of the above," argued the statement, "we wonder why a high-ranking official like John Kerry rejects a transparent inquiry and why he is so angry that those who monopolise US funding of NGOs in Egypt for profiteering purposes could face investigation."

The Conservatives Party statement concluded that, "A strict overhaul of foreign funding of NGOs in Egypt is well recommended because it will make sure that this money is spent on concrete development projects rather than on foreign agendas."

Joining forces, the parliamentary bloc of the so-called "Guardians of the Nation" Party (with 18 MPs) accused Kerry of leading a concerted Western campaign aimed at destabilising Egypt.

"While we are standing up to the threat of terrorism, we should stand united against a concerted campaign coming from the EU Parliament and the US administration, with both insisting on spreading chaos in Egypt," said the party's statement.

Mohamed Usama Abul-Magd, chairman of the bloc, told reporters that the party is in favour of tightening controls on NGOs obtaining foreign funding. "The Americans are irritated because the NGOs and individuals they give money to, to spread an agenda of anarchy and chaos, are about to be exposed," said Abul-Magd.

Mostafa Bakri, an independent MP with fiery anti-American rhetoric, also joined the chorus, demanding that the NGOs law be amended to impose a strict ban on all sources of foreign funding for NGOs. "We have to close this door because NGOs with foreign agendas are like a dagger in the back of this nation," said Bakri.

Bakri accused US-funded NGOs of implementing the agenda of what he called "radical liberal" institutions "such as Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute," which "played a pivotal role in spreading chaos in Egypt in the last five years."

Amin Masoud, another independent MP, said in a statement Sunday that a parliamentary hearing session should be held next week to respond to American and European intervention in Egypt's internal affairs. "We should also open the file of NGOs obtaining foreign funding and make sure that a ban be imposed in this respect," said Masoud.

Chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, Anwar El-Sadat, however, begged to differ. In a statement entitled, "What does Egypt's new regime and its affiliated security apparatus intend to do?" Sadat accused Egyptian authorities of mounting a ferocious campaign against human rights activists and civil society organisations.

El-Sadat deplored that the new regime in Egypt has not yet learned the lessons of two revolutions in five years. "This regime should realise that arbitrary measures against human rights NGOs will cause the loss of many friends in America and the West," he said.

El-Sadat added that, "Those who allege that the West and America are currently involved in a conspiracy against Egypt should correct their positions." "The West is keen that Egypt turns democratic and stable and that it does not become another Syria, because the costs of a civil war in this country will become disastrous for the entire world," he said.

El-Sadat said he is in favour of a independent review of NGO activities in Egypt, "but I am totally against imposing any kind of bans on these NGOs."

El-Sadat also said he has high hopes that once formed, the Egyptian parliament's committee on human rights would conduct an open dialogue with human rights activists, to reach consensus on a new democratic NGOs law. "I think in this way we will be sending a positive signal to the outside world, rather than reveling in conspiracy theories," said El-Sadat.

Meanwhile, MP Ahmed Said told reporters Sunday that a delegation heading to Brussels to discuss human rights in Egypt with the EU Parliament will be widened to include 13 MPs rather than eight. "We are also currently investigating the case of the Italian student Giulio Regeni who was killed in mysterious circumstances in Cairo on 3 February, to give the EU Parliament a report about it," said Said. "We are reviewing a file about his life in Egypt, including his contacts and whereabouts," noted Said, who will head the parliamentary delegation visiting Brussels.

Said indicated that "MPs are also currently thoroughly reviewing the EU Parliament's statement about human rights in Egypt and we are preparing responses to it." "We found out that a large part of this statement was based on incorrect and inaccurate information," Said stated.

Said told reporters that while the investigation into the killing of Egypt's former prosecutor general took eight months, European MPs want a quick inquiry just one month after Regeni's death.

Said disclosed that the parliamentary delegation heading to Brussels will hold a meeting with officials from the foreign ministry and the National Council for Human Rights next Thursday to prepare the report about Regeni and the situation of human rights in Egypt in general. "We will also study the make-up of the EU Parliament and what lobbies adopt radical positions about human rights," noted Said.

Said indicated that he hopes the Egyptian parliamentary delegation's visit to Brussels will begin mid-April. "I received instructions from parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al that we should resolve our differences with the EU Parliament via dialogue rather than confrontation," added Said.

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