Egypt ministers defend NGO raids

The raids prompted hints from Washington that it may review its huge aid programme

CAIRO - Two Egyptian ministers defended on Sunday raids on 17 offices of non-governmental organisations, three of them US-funded, that prompted hints from Washington that it may review its huge aid programme.
Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abul Naga and Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid Abdullah told a Cairo news conference that prosecutors were justified in investigating the NGOs concerned as they appeared to have broken Egyptian law on political funding.
"Foreign organisations have illegally opened offices in Egypt since the January 25 revolution and have broken the law on associations," Abul Naga said, referring to the mass protests that led to the overthrow of veteran president Hosni Mubarak in February.
"All countries in the world, including the United States, forbid (foreign) funding of organisations engaged in political activities or activities linked to political parties," she added.
For his part, Abdallah stressed "Egypt's concern to see NGOs carry out their work without any interference and in a free and independent way, but in a responsible manner that respects Egyptian law."
In Thursday's raids on the NGOs, which included the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, prosecutors backed by police special forces confiscated computers and documents as part of a probe into allegations of illegal funding from abroad.
The US State Department led a chorus of Western criticism of the raids and hinted that Egypt runs some risk of losing $1.5 billion in US military aid under a bill enacted a week ago linking the assistance to moves towards democracy.
"We do have a number of new reporting and transparency requirements on funding to Egypt that we have to make to the Congress," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"The Egyptian government is well aware of that and it certainly needs to be aware of that in the context of how quickly this issue gets resolved," Nuland said.
Nuland on Friday signalled progress toward defusing the crisis when she said Egyptian leaders offered assurances they will stop raids on US and other NGOs as well as return seized property.
But the sponsor of the legislation linking US aid to progress on the road to democracy said Congress is ready to apply pressure on Egypt's military rulers in the New Year.
"Actions like these are another reason why my appropriations sub-committee refused to give a blank cheque of foreign aid to the Egyptian military," Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said in a statement.