Egyptian riot police raided the offices of at least 17 high-profile human rights and pro-democracy organizations including the US National Democratic Institute (NDI), which was founded by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, and the International Republican Institute (IRI). Staff members were confined in their offices during the raids and forbidden to make phone calls while their laptops and other documents were confiscated. Photos on Twitter showed police in body armor stationed outside their offices.
The NDI is loosely affiliated with the US Democratic party and the IRI with the Republican party. Both receive funding from the US State Department and the raids, notes the Guardian, are likely to lead to friction with the US, which underwrites $1.3 million of military aid to Egypt annually. The IRI issued a statement in which it noted that, under Hosni Mubarak, it not been subjected to such “aggressive action”:
“Today’s raid is confusing given that IRI was officially invited by the government of Egypt to witness the people’s assembly elections, and was in the process of deploying a high level international delegation to observe the third phase of elections on January 3 and 4, having successfully deployed witnesses for phases one and two.
“IRI has worked with Egyptian political parties and civil society to share technical skills and provide information about democratic participation. IRI does not provide monetary or material support to political parties or civil society groups in Egypt.”
NDI president Kenneth Wollack was quoted by the New York Times as saying that “Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt’s historic transition sends a disturbing signal.”
Both the NDI and the IRI said that they take a “neutral political stance” and seek to foster democracy by training Egyptians in the democratic process.
Egyptian and other international groups (including the Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung, which supports political dialogue, the Washington-based Freedom House and the Egyptian Public Budget Observatory) were also targeted in what authorities are saying is an investigation into foreign funding of civic society groups in Egypt. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the interim military government of generals that has been ruling Egypt since the ouster of Mubarak, has also recently been accusing local non-governmental organizations of receiving funds from aboard and of fomenting unrest.
The law under which Egyptian authorities conducted the raid dates back to Mubarak’s regime and is, furthermore, a law that that government has said it will repeal, says the Guardian. While Mubarak was in power, such groups had operated in a “grey area, unable to obtain permission to operate in full legal compliance” — but also while Mubarak was in power, “the government never dared to do such a thing,” said prominent human rights activist Negad el-Bourai on Twitter.
Egypt’s official Mena news agency said that “the search is based on evidence showing violation of Egyptian laws, including not having permits.”
On the same day as the raids, five policemen were acquitted of killing and injuring protesters during the uprising against Mubarak. According to the court, three of the policemen had not been present where the killings took place and two had fired weapons in self-defense.
The previous day, the trial of Mubarak and his sons, Alaa and Gamal, on charges of ordering police to fire on protesters during the uprising and of corruption, resumed. But today’s raid on NGO offices and the acquittal of the policemen raise more questions about how much has truly changed since Mubarak’s ouster on February 11.
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Photo of police in Egypt taken January 25, 2011 by Muhammad غفّاري: How much has changed?
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