A raid by the Egyptian security and military troops on offices of some local and international non-governmental organizations a week ago came as a shock to some of these organizations.
The United States reacted sharply when Egyptian authorities swooped in on some 17 non-governmental groups last week, including the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), both loosely affiliated with the leading U.S. political parties.
The U.S. government hinted it could review the $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Cairo if the raids continued, underscoring Washington’s concern over political developments in a country seen as the lynchpin of the Middle East.
“This came as a real shock. A disturbing shock particularly given to the types of programs that we are doing,” NDI chief Kenneth Wollack told Al Arabiya in a special interview.
Egyptian police special forces stormed the offices of NGOs, confiscating computers and documents, as part of a probe into allegations of illegal funding from abroad.
The raids were part of a wider campaign by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to silence dissent after months of criticism of its human rights record, analysts said.
“There were indirect suggestions about the return of property and documents and the return of cash, but there was no assurances about this happening and when the timing of this would take place,” Wollack told Al Arabiya correspondent in Cairo Randa Abul Azm.
“It is hard to describe motives or the timing for this raid. We work in 12 countries in this region. We have offices in 12 countries. We work in 65 countries around the world. We do so in a very open and transparent way. So why this action was taken…I don’t know,” the NDI chief said.
“I was in Egypt back in 2005 and I met with the Foreign Ministry and I was assured that our registration would be approved in 5 weeks. Throughout the process, we have been in constant contacts with the Foreign Minister and other government officials, letting them know about our programs and our activities. Never once did they tell us that our office should be closed or activity should cease,” Wollack said.
“The types of activities that we are engaged in are similar to the activities that we have been conducting for the past six years. We have been doing it in an open transparent way and in terms of the work that we have been doing since April with a new grant and it is $7 million a year from the USAID and the Department of State,” NDI chief said, answering a question about how his organization was being accused of working in Egypt illegally and with no permits, as well as expanding its activities and the amount of aid that it is getting $10 million.
“The nature of our work is sharing international experiences of democratic transitions. We have had officials and leaders of democratic transitions from other countries: from Poland, from Indonesia, from Chile sharing those experiences. We have worked on sharing the international experiences on the long development of political parties and these are political parties across the spectrum. We have also worked with civic groups to assist their efforts to monitor the elections,” Wollack said.
“We hope for to renew the dialogue with the authorities, so we can resolve the problem and have the equipment, money and documents returned,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lorne Craner, President of the International Republican Institute (IRI), which was another U.S. non-governmental organization raided by the Egyptian security forces last week, told Al Arabiya that it was an irony that his organization was able to do work in Egypt during the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak.
“The irony here is that we were able to do work here during Mr. Mubarak’s time and our offices were never raided. Here it is after the revolution when openness and democracy are coming to Egypt and our offices are subject to an armed raid,” Craner said in his interview with Al Arabiya.
“On the one hand we have been told that ‘you are qualified to come and witness our election’. On the other hand our offices become the subject of an armed raid in the country. This causes a lot of confusion after the revolution,” IRI chief said.
“This never happened to the organization anywhere else in 30 years.”
“My own personal interpretation is that there are many people both in the military and the government who have the spirit of the revolution, who understand how important this revolution was for Egypt and that it moves Egypt towards being more open, towards being more democratic, towards gaining stature frankly in the international community. And there are some people who are still holdovers from the time of Mr. Mubarak who do not understand the significance of the revolution and what it should mean to Egypt and aren’t used to what is allowed in a democratic society,” Craner said.
“No political party in Egypt and no civil society in Egypt has ever gotten a single pound from the International Republican Institute,” he said.
“We got assurances that all our computers, our documents and cash seized during the raids would be returned.”