Egyptian security forces have stormed the offices of 10 human rights and pro-democracy groups, including several based in the US, which were accused by the country’s military rulers of destabilizing security by fomenting protests with the help of foreign funding.
The raids on Thursday on 17 offices throughout Egypt are part of the ruling generals’ attempt to blame “foreign hands” for the unrest that continued to roil Egypt since the 18-day revolt that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February, but that activists say failed to topple his regime.
Among the offices ransacked were the US-headquartered National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and the International Republican Institute, which is observing Egypt’s staggered parliamentary elections.
US President Barack Obama’s administration demanded Egyptian authorities immediately halt the raids on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), saying they were “inconsistent” with long-standing US-Egypt cooperation.
The US Department of State called on the Egyptian government “to immediately end the harassment of NGO staff, return all property and resolve this issue.”
US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US ambassador to Egypt and the top US diplomat for the Middle East have spoken to Egyptian officials about the situation and “made very clear that this issue needs immediate attention.”
The raids on the NGOs were the first since Mubarak’s ouster, though Egyptian officials have been levying accusations for months that the civil society groups are serving a foreign agenda.
Most recently this month, Egyptian Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid accused about 300 nonprofit groups of receiving unauthorized foreign funding and using the money for protests.
The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior said the raids on 10 nonprofit organizations were part of the investigation into foreign funding of rights groups.
By far the largest recipient of foreign funding in Egypt is the military itself, which has for more than 30 years received about US$1.3 billion in annual US security assistance.
Freedom House said its staff were held incommunicado during the raids and that cellphones, laptops, funds and documents found during the interrogations were confiscated.
The group said in a statement the raids came just three days after it formally submitted papers to register its offices in accordance with Egyptian law.
Troops and police sealed the doors of the civil society groups and banned anyone from entering or speaking with employees as they were interrogated.
“In the current fiscal environment, the United States must not subsidize authoritarianism in Egypt while the Egyptian government is preventing NGOs from implementing democracy and human rights projects subsidized by the US taxpayer,” Freedom House Middle East and North Africa director Charles Dunne said.
The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which is not under investigation, said in a statement that the raids went beyond the type of Mubarak-era tactics that spurred hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to take to the streets demanding freedom and democracy during this year’s uprising.
“Mubarak’s regime did not dare to undertake such practices prior to the uprising,” ANHRI said, adding that the storming of the civil society organizations’ offices was part of “a systematic campaign against these organizations, which was prepared for in advance.”