Egypt Not Relenting on NGOs
CNN’s Security Clearance blog
By Jill Dougherty
Egyptian officials still have not returned property or cash seized in a December 29 police raid on the Cairo offices of U.S. non-governmental organizations, according to two U.S.-based NGOs.
The actions by the Egyptian police contradict assurances the State Department says were given to the U.S. ambassador by Egyptian authorities.
“We had been assured by leaders in the Egyptian government that this issue would be resolved, that harassment would end, that NGOs would be allowed to go back to business as usual and that their property would be returned. It is, frankly, unacceptable to us that that situation has not been returned to normal,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in her daily press briefing Tuesday.
Leslie Campbell, director of the National Democratic Institute’s programs in the Middle East and North Africa, told CNN there has been “no change at all – nothing returned.”
Campbell says there have been “mixed signals” from the Egyptian government about whether the group’s offices can be used, “but we are being cautious until there is a definitive statement from the government.” The National Democratic Institute, headquartered in Washington, works to “establish and strengthen democratic institutions and practices” around the world, according to its website.
Another U.S. NGO targeted in the raids, the International Republican Institute, told CNN that promises to the U.S. ambassador that the offices would be re-opened and possessions returned have not been kept.
Speaking by phone from Cairo, IRI President Lorne Craner said his group was promised on Friday that their material would be returned, but that hasn’t happened.
“The agreement that we understood to have been made last Friday has not been undertaken and, in fact, we’re being told there will be an investigation of us,” he said. “Today (Wednesday) we had an Egyptian citizen and a U.S. citizen from our staff called in by the police, by the prosecutors, for questioning.”
The International Republican Institute also works to promote democracy and aid democracy activists, according to its website.
Craner said Egypt’s minister of international cooperation – a holdover from former President Hosni Mubarak’s administration – and the minister of justice held a hastily-announced news conference in Cairo Sunday and accused the NGOs of various activities such as giving money to Egyptian political parties. The ministers said their would be an investigation of their activities.
Both groups deny the charges.
“We are being accused of things we’ve never done, we are told we have operated without registration and that is true because we filed our registration papers five and a half years ago. We were told the papers are complete and we’re still waiting,” Craner said.
Even during the Mubarak period, he said, “people knew what we were doing. They allowed us to operate. Under this new period, which is supposedly post-revolutionary, democratic Egypt, our offices get raided and my people get pulled in and material gets taken away.”
Sources close to international NGOs told CNN they believe there may be a split in the Egyptian leadership and that it’s possible the highest levels of the military government did not know about the raids in advance.
The raids could jeopardize aid to Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion yearly of U.S. taxpayer money. Some of those sources said the NGOs are being contacted by members of the U.S. Congress who support their work, asking how they can help.
“We’ve operated for 30 years everywhere from (dictator Augusto) Pinochet’s Chile to Nicaragua, to the Soviet Union when it was the Soviet Union, to Central Europe, to Indonesia under Suharto. We work in China, Belarus.
This has never, ever happened in 30 years where we get our offices raided. And Egypt is supposed to be an American friend,” Craner said.