Two Egyptian ministers have defended last week’s raids on the offices of 10 human rights and pro-democracy organizations, rejecting denunciations from the United States, the United Nations and Germany.
Planning and International Cooperation Minister Faiza Aboul Naga and Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid Abdullah said Sunday that prosecutors were justified in investigating the groups because they appeared to have broken Egypt’s law on political funding.
Aboul Naga voiced repeated complaints from the judiciary and the ruling military about civil groups accepting foreign funds to promote instability and “influence public opinion in non-peaceful ways.” She said the order to investigate came from independent judges, and that the violations are potentially criminal and could result in imprisonment.
Abdullah stressed that “even the U.S. bans” foreign funding of groups engaged in political activities. He said the number of non-governmental organizations violating the law has grown since last year’s uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.
Angered by the sweeps, Washington called on Egyptian authorities to stop the “harassment” of the targeted groups, which include the U.S. government-funded National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute. Washington-based Freedom House also was hit.
All three groups denounced the raids, as did the seven Egyptian NGOs that were targeted.
A statement signed by 28 Egyptian civil society groups said the sweeps were part of a wider campaign to discredit activists who criticize the country’s interim military rulers. The groups called the raids “unprecedented,” adding that not even under Mr. Mubarak’s repressive government did such actions occur.
Heavily armed men searched offices in Cairo and at least two other cities, confiscating computers, documents, cell phones and funds while holding staff members incommunicado.
The U.S. State Department said Egypt agreed to halt the raids and return property seized in the crackdown. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson spoke Friday with senior Egyptian officials to underscore Washington’s concern about the sweeps.
In a separate development, Egypt’s army rulers decreed Sunday they would hasten multi-phase elections for parliament’s upper house, the Shura, after deadly clashes in Cairo last month raised pressure for a quicker handover to civilian rule.
Final run-offs to the assembly’s upper house will end on February 22 instead of March 12, and the house will hold its first sitting on February 28, nearly a month earlier than previously expected.
Fifty-nine people were killed in confrontations in late November and December between security forces and protesters demanding the military leave power sooner.
An earlier end to the drawn-out election process could take some momentum out of the protests, led by Egyptian pro-democracy groups and rights activists, many of whom were targeted in last week’s raids.