x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Egypt rights groups blast raids on NGO offices

The military has often accused the groups of promoting protests with the help of funds from abroad.

CAIRO // Several Egyptian rights groups yesterday accused the country's ruling military council of using "repressive tools" of the deposed regime in waging an "unprecedented campaign" against pro-democracy organisations.

The groups' joint statement came just hours after security forces stormed the offices of 10 rights organisations, including several based in the United States. The interior ministry said the raids were part of the investigation into foreign funding of rights groups.

The military, which took control after a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak in February, has often accused the groups of promoting protests with the help of funds from abroad.

The raids drew an angry reaction from the US. Also, German officials have summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Berlin to complain about a raid on a German organisation in Cairo, and the UN human-rights office criticised Egypt's "unnecessarily heavy-handed measures" against the groups, calling on Egypt's rulers to allow them to "carry out their important work without undue interference".

Yesterday's statement, signed by 28 Egyptian rights groups, said the raids were part of a clampdown against leaders of the uprising and were an attempt to "liquidate" the revolution.

"The military council is using Mubarak's authoritarian and repressive tools ... in an even more dangerous and uglier way," the statement read. The raids "are an unprecedented campaign aimed at covering up big failures of the military council in managing the transition period".

An official with the justice ministry's inspection teams said computers and cash were confiscated during the raids. He said an earlier investigation revealed these groups had received up to US$100 million (Dh367m) from abroad, then deposited the money in different Egyptian banks using names of illiterate Egyptians for the fake accounts.

In another raid on Thursday, police arrested a member of the April 6 group, a youth movement at the helm of the anti-Mubarak protests. A security official said hashish and about $4,000 (Dh14,690) were found at Ahmed El Salkawi's house.

April 6 was among the groups the military had accused of receiving foreign funds and using the money to promote a "foreign agenda". Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to reporters.

The Egyptian military is by far the largest recipient of foreign funds in Egypt, getting about $1.3 billion annually in US security assistance for more than 30 years.

The military appears concerned that foreign funding could strengthen the liberal groups behind Egypt's uprising at the expense of the military's own vast power.

State media launched a campaign against the US Ambassador, Anne Patterson, after her remarks about funding NGOs to promote democracy. The July 31 issue of the state-run October Magazine featured a cover depicting Ms Patterson holding a burning wad of dollars to the wick of a bomb wrapped in an American flag. The headline read: "The ambassador from hell who lit a fire in Tahrir", a reference to the Cairo square that was the focus of mass protests.

Among the offices raided were the US-headquartered National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, the International Republican Institute (which is observing Egypt's continuing parliamentary elections), as well as Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank with links to Chancellor Angela Merkel's party.

Germany's Development Aid Minister, Dirk Niebel, called on Egypt "immediately to ensure the foundations' unhindered work and clear up completely what happened."

The Obama administration demanded that Egyptian authorities halt the raids, having said they were "inconsistent" with the long-standing US-Egypt cooperation.