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NGO raids: a 'smear campaign' say Human Rights groups, as SCAF backdown

Pro-democracy organisations point to more sinister motives behind Thursday's attacks, as Egyptian officials prepare to hand back confiscated items

Ekram Ibrahim , Saturday 31 Dec 2011
Workers from a non-governmental organization National Democratic Institute, or NDI, wait as Egyptian officials raid their office in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, 29 December, 2011. (Photo:AP)

Egyptian authorities promise within the next 24 hours to return all property seized during the attacks on the nongovernmental organisations (NGO) that took place last Thursday, an American official has said in an e-mailed statement. This follows a press conference held by 31 Human Rights groups that denounced the raids as a "smear campaign" orchestrated to silence critics of the military rule under the pretext of protecting Egyptian sovereignty from foreign interference.

Egyptian Defence Attaché in Washington, Mohamed el-Keshki, denied that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) was responsible for the 17 raids which saw numerous NGOs targeted across the country. El-Keshki added these actions would come under the jurisdiction of the police and the judiciary.

A group of around 14 security officers, including a public prosecutor, broke into the NGO offices on Thursday, seizing all documents, receipts, flip-charts, computers, personal staff laptops and cameras before locking staff members inside.

Among the offices targeted was the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the German foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, The Arab Centre for Independence of the Judiciary ‎and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP), the Budgetary and Human ‎Rights Observatory and ‎Freedom House.

“No one has given us an explanation, the security forces never talked to us, they just locked doors and communicated only when they needed help,” Julie Hughes, Director of the NDI told Ahram Online.

Tensions between NGOs, Human Rights activists and the ruling military council have risen since July, when the SCAF accused members of these groups of receiving illegal funding from abroad encouraging foreign intervention in the country. During that time the bank accounts of almost 800 NGO workers were screened but no one was arrested.

“This is a systematic attack on the all rights activists who promote the ideas of a civil state,” Negad el-Borai, a leading civil society activist told Ahram Online, “They are fighting whoever is declaring their violations."

Since July, the ruling military council posted numerous statements on their Facebook page claiming that Egypt is under threat because these groups that receive international funding are promoting a ‘foreign agenda’. Facebook communiqué numbers 91 and 92 published on 21 December stated that the SCAF received intelligence of a foriegn-led plan to destabilise the country by escalating the protests and creating sit-ins on Tahrir Square.

This corroborates statement 69 they published in July 23, where they blamed “personal interests and special agendas” as well as the April 6 Movement for the increased “tension between military forces and the people”. In addition, state media suggested 10 of the raided organisations were paying illiterate people to go and protest.

The choice of NGOs ransacked on Thursday, for many, points to a different SCAF agenda: “Several of the raided organisations are working on elections monitoring which should cause a great concern,” Hughes told Ahram Online. Military officials refute this claim, instead saying they identified those who had received illegal foreign funding or who are working without a license.

Getting this license is an issue for the NGOs, explained Hughes. NDI has been applying for registration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2005. They were told documentation would take a year. In June 2011, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told NDI that their registration was stopped for “political reasons.”

However not all organisations benefiting from foreign aid have been attacked. The Ansar Al-Sunna Foundation received funds in February 2011 of LE 296 million from both Kuwaiti and Qatari organizations with Islamic backgrounds. “The amount LE 296 is the largest fund received by Egyptian NGOs in 2010 and 2011,” reported Al-Ahram daily newspaper on 22 December, 2011. The minister of social solidarity at the time approved the funding. To date there have been no reports of attacks on this foundation or similar organisations who have received financing from Arab or Islamic sources.

Morale is high, as the civil society activists say they will continue their work. ‘We are not afraid,” El-Boraei joked, “I am really looking forward to being jailed with Gamal Mubarak and playing soccer with him in prison.”

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