Catherine Ashton (Photo: Reuters)
EU foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton has issued a statement condemning the raid on the offices of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by security forces on 29 December.
In the statement, Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, expressed “great concern” over the raiding of the offices of several local and international civil society organisations by Egyptian officials.
Ashton criticised the raids, which she described as an “open demonstration of force against civil society organisations,” further explaining that this kind of force is “particularly worrying as it comes in the midst of Egypt’s transition towards democracy.”
Ashton concluded the brief statement by calling on Egyptian authorities to allow civil society organisations to resume their work.
In a sudden development on Thursday afternoon, members of Egypt’s prosecution office, backed up by police and military personnel, raided and then closed 17 offices belonging to at least five different civil society organisations.
The five NGOs that confirmed 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 Egyptian branches of Washington-based organisations the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House.
International condemnations quickly followed the raids. United Kingdom Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne released a statement Friday calling on the Egyptian government to “encourage not impede” the work of civil society bodies.
On the same day, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and US ambassador in Egypt Anne Patterson spoke with top Egyptian officials including the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to press US demands that the NGOs be allowed to resume normal operations.
Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the current ruling military council, has reportedly assured Panetta that NGOs recently raided would be allowed to operate as before.
In July, the government of former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf drew up a fact-finding committee, headed by Minister of Justice Mohamed Abdel Aziz El-Guindy, 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 the American governmental development agency USAID.
In October, 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.”
Egypt’s official human rights body, the National Council of Human Rights, released a press statement on its website on Sunday, saying that the decision to appoint the two judges contradicts the law. The statement added that the closing of some of the offices after the raid was completed, without a court order, is also illegal.
Current Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abou El-Naga said during a press conference on Sunday that she had initiated the investigation into civil society organisations by submitting an evaluation report to the Cabinet in July.
Abou El-Naga, who has been in office since 2001, announced during the press conference that following the uprising the US has provided funds for some nongovernmental organisations in Egypt amounting to $200 million, a sum she considered “too high.” Abou El-Naga further said that some of the international civil society organisations that started operating from Cairo after the 25 January revolution have been operating without official authorisation and have committed grave violations of the Egyptian civil society law.
At the local level, civil society organisations continue to condemn the raids. On Friday, 27 human rights organisations held a press conference in Cairo to voice their stance on the raid, which they described as an “unprecedented campaign” against political activists and rights entities.
Furthermore, a group of human rights lawyers filed an official complaint to the prosecutor general about the illegal aspects of the raids.
The Egyptian Social Democratic Party has called for a demonstration on Monday evening in front of the prosecutor general’s office to protest the raids.