Seeming to borrow a page from the Hosni Mubarak playbook, Egyptian security forces yesterday raided the offices of two Egyptian, two American and one German non-governmental organization and held their staffs inside these offices while police and prosecutors search their papers and computers.
The reason for the raids is still unclear, but it is known that these are among the not-for-profit groups who have registered strong objections to the so-called NGO law drafted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) IN November 2011.
According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), officers - in uniform and civilian clothes - raided the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions (ACIJP) and The Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, both Egyptian NGOs; The National Democratic Institute (NDI), an American NGO with offices in Cairo and Assuit); the International Republican Institute (IRI), an American organization with an office in Cairo; Freedom House, an American organization with an office in Egypt, and Konrad Adenauer, a German NGO.
The staff members of these organizations were reportedly held in their offices while. Police searched their papers, laptops and computers.
Staff members of the six organizations were warned from using their cell phones, laptops and computers; and were isolated from contact with the outside world. Additionally, with regards to the ACIJP office at least, authorities restricted access to the entire building, preventing people from entering or exiting the building.
ANHRI said that "storming these offices is related to the campaign led by the Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Egyptian government starting from June 2011 against civil society organizations and more specifically human rights groups in Egypt."
The NDI, IRI, and Freedom House have been previously investigated by the ministry of justice on charges of receiving foreign funding, while the Arab Center for the Independence of Justice and Legal Professions has not been yet investigated. An Investigation of the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory was due to start next Sunday, January 1, 2012.
ANHRI said the storming of NGO offices is "an unprecedented move in the recent history of Egyptian NGOs," adding that in February 2011, during the 18 days Egyptian revolution, "Military Police stormed the office of Hisham Mubarak Law Center, an Egyptian NGO based in Cairo, and arrested several of its members as well as staff members of other international organizations who were present at the scene."
The Egyptian newspaper, Al Ahram, reported, "In Mubarak's time the government never dared to do such a thing," said prominent human rights activists Negad El-Bourai on his Twitter account."
"We are still not sure of anything," said Emad Mubarak from the Freedom of Expression Center, "however their excuse could be that they are auditing the files after accusations that many NGOs are receiving foreign funds."
In August, a group of Egyptian NGOs sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the Rights to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. It is unclear what action the UN body took.
Thirty-nine Egyptian NGOs participated in the appeal, submitting a complaint condemning the campaign against civil society associations and the incitement to hatred, as well as government attempts to further restrict the activities of these organizations and the investigations launched by the Supreme State Security Prosecution.
In November, 2011, these 39 human rights and development organizations drafted a new law to regulate NGOs and sent a copy to then Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.
The proposed law provided for the autonomy of Egyptian civil society organizations from the state and its administrative apparatus. At the same time, it guaranteed the transparent operation of these organizations in terms of their activities and sources of funding. Under the proposed law, civil society groups and NGOs could be established by notification at a primary court, and the Ministry of Justice would be the competent administrative body. The law also provided for the freedom to join and form international and local networks and alliances. No action has been taken on this draft law.
ANHRI said that, "Since their formation human rights organizations have been at the forefront of proposing laws to liberate civic action. This law is one of many proposed since 1985. In 2009, during the Mubarak era, an alternative law was proposed by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights; however, it was disregarded by the regime."
The group added," In light of the continuation of the Mubarak regimes policy towards civil society organizations, including interference in civil society operations by the administrative and security sectors, the undersigned organizations now proffer the same law in a new initiative joined by several more groups. In addition, a media campaign has been launched to smear civil society, particularly human rights groups, in order to damage the credibility of their reports and their criticisms of the human rights record of the SCAF and its government.