“Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood today issued a harsh denunciation of liberal and secular activists,” endorsing the ruling military’s claim that pro-democracy groups receive foreign funds in order to foment disorder.
“They have no popularity,” said Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan. “Is it valid that they receive funds to create chaos to bring down the parliament? This is chaos. It is not about democracy.”
A leading member of the Islamists’ Freedom and Justice party echoed the sentiments in a meeting with the U.S. envoy to Cairo, as the authorities extended a travel ban on foreign democracy officials.
Saad El-Katatni (right), the speaker of the newly-elected parliament, told Ambassador Ann Peterson that Egypt would not accept interference by the embassy in the country’s domestic affairs.
The authorities’ ban on US employees of pro-democracy NGOs traveling outside the country is to be extended, Reuters reports:
A judicial source said on Wednesday the travel ban had been extended to three more Americans, taking the total to 17 U.S. citizens out of a total of 28 foreigners who have been prevented from leaving Egypt. The source expected the release of the probe’s results next week.
The travel ban is widely seen as a prelude to the prosecution of Egyptian and foreign pro-democracy activists, following security forces’ December 29 raids on seventeen pro-democracy NGOs, including three U.S.-based and government funded groups: Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute. Despite official reassurances, the NGOs have not been allowed to reopen and assets have not been returned.
NDI’s Hughes is unrepentant about the U.S.-funded democracy programs, which provide assistance to groups across the political spectrum. But she is upset that opportunities to assist the democratic transition are being squandered.
“That is more than a little heartbreaking for us,” Hughes told Reuters.
“It’s an honor to be right here now at this point in history: to see history being rewritten and being remade and people grabbing hold of their political future and helping them participate in the democratic transition,” she said:
NDI has trained around 14,000 Egyptians in advocacy, voter education and election monitoring since April 1 last year and has brought speakers including former leaders of Poland and Chile, countries with an experience of democratic transitions. But the investigation shows how far Egypt has to go before such organizations can operate as freely as they do in much of the world, highlighting what Egyptian activists describe as the persistence of the Mubarak-era mentality – one of fear of allowing too much debate.
It is an article of faith for democracy assistance groups that political change can only be initiated and driven by indigenous forces, but external actors can provide the practical support and advice that many local activists need and request.
The European Union today called on the authorities to respect freedom of association and the independence of civil society groups.
“As Egypt moves forward in its democratic transition, it is vital to allow civil society organizations to play their crucial role as a pillar of a modern, open and democratic society,” said a spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs. “The EU urges the Egyptian authorities to ensure that any inspections of civil society organizations which receive foreign funding be done in line with appropriate legal procedures.”
The EU called on the Egyptian authorities to adopt a Law on Associations and Foundations that would be consistent with international standards.
The issue is due to be raised at today’s White House meeting of Egyptian officials and members of President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.
“There is a grotesque incongruity in the tour around Washington this week of an Egyptian military delegation even as seven Americans who work for congressionally funded pro-democracy groups are prevented from leaving Cairo and threatened with criminal prosecution,” writes The Washington Post. “What makes it worse is that the ruling military council refuses to recognize the seriousness of the crisis it has created in the U.S.-Egyptian alliance.”
The Obama administration is “struggling” to cope with the crisis, but it would be “a huge mistake” to back down, said Michelle Dunne, a Middle East expert at the Atlantic Council of the United States.
“I am only full of praise for the administration on this, from the president on down,” said Lorne Craner, IRI’s president. “But despite their great engagement, things have only gotten worse over the past month.”
But some administration officials appear to be playing down the crisis.
“There are going to be differences of opinion. There were before the popular revolution there,” said Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby. “Part of what makes a relationship a relationship is the ability to continue to discuss and try to find a way to move forward even beyond the differences you might share.”
The NSC officials are likely to hear the regime’s official line, recently articulated by the investigation’s instigator, Faiza Abu el-Naga, the minister of international cooperation, that it is a purely legal matter.
“The rights groups that are being investigated received funds from abroad without government knowledge and in violation of the law,” she told a news conference.
The line is being parroted by Egypt’s ambassador to Washington who says he has met with State Department and National Security Council officials to discuss the affair.
“I recognize it’s an issue that has caused a great deal of concern with members of Congress and the administration,” said Sameh Shoukry. “But again, I think one of the main achievements of the revolution has been to escalate and elevate the issues of the rule of law and the separation of powers [inside Egypt], and I think all should respect this.”
“These are all primarily legal issues, and we have every confidence in the impartiality and competence of the Egyptian judicial system to be able to get to the bottom of these issues — to find out the truth, and to provide those who are being questioned with an opportunity to clarify any issues that might have been taken out of context or that need to clarified,” he told Politico. “In view of the legal and judicial nature of this investigation, we’re certain respecting the rule of law and the primacy of the legal system and don’t want to speculate one way or another about the potential outcome.”
To the contrary, pro-democracy activists say: it is a purely political affair, designed to undermine emerging democratic forces and to stifle Egypt’s civil society, the prime source of liberal democratic energies.
“It is one of the frontlines of the revolution,” said Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, one of the NGOs raided and under investigation. “It is the counter revolution that is attacking us.”
The attack on the NGOs demonstrates that Egypt’s transition has signally failed to cleanse the state apparatus of former regime elements, like Abu el-Naga, and the state intelligence and secret services. Unlike Tunisia, where the old guard was largely purged from positions of power, Mubarak’s mukhabarat remains covertly powerful and active, a Washington meeting heard last week.
“The members of state security are still there in the apparatus,” said Amin. “A year after the revolution, the old regime has started to regain its strength.”
The Brotherhood’s endorsement of the ruling military’s investigation into foreign funding of pro-democracy and human rights NGOs will strengthen secular activists’ conviction that the Islamists and the military share a tacit pact to undermine the country’s emerging democratic forces.
The authorities are using the issue of NGO funding to stoke xenophobic sentiment and turn public sentiment against democratic forces, says Hafez Abou Saeda, chairman of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights.
“It is using this card to influence domestic opinion: to give the impression that the whole revolution is a foreign product,” he said. “It’s always the issue of foreign funding that is used to defame the rights movement in Egypt,” he said, adding that his organization gets most of its funds from the European Union.
It has criticized the foreign funding for NGOs pouring into the country, blaming a “foreign hand” for trying to destabilize the country. But who is funding the extreme fundamentalist Salafists whose supporters have been going around with Tasers forcing women out of hairdressing salons? ….People here say that the conservative Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia — which has no interest in a successful Egyptian revolution, for obvious reasons — are among those funding the Salafists. But you don’t hear the SCAF talking about that.