NGOs in Egypt: Scapegoats of Imperialism?
By: Rana Mamdouh
Published Thursday, February 23, 2012
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in Egypt has put US$1.5 billion of United States aid on line in its fight against NGOs, accusing them of being agents of imperialism.
Cairo – Day after day, it becomes clearer to Egyptians and the rest of the world that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is a mirror image of the old regime that the Egyptian revolution sought to eliminate. The story of the current war being waged on NGOs may be an example of how the Egyptian military will deal with matters of politics.
This comes at a time when many NGOs are working to ensure that the military council upholds its promise to hand over its authority to a democratically elected government. It appears that SCAF is using the same methods as Mubarak and his cronies by creating diversionary issues in order to conveniently bypass more important ones.
International human rights organizations had always criticized the policies of the Mubarak regime, especially those tied to individual freedoms. Today, the response of SCAF to these organizations mirrors those of the old regime. The army, just like Mubarak, says it will not tolerate “interference in Egyptian domestic affairs or violations of Egyptian sovereignty.”
They accuse local NGOs of being agents of imperialism and accepting foreign funds in the same way that Mubarak did to get away with fraudulent elections, the court martial of civilians, and widespread torture in prisons and police stations.
SCAF does not use anti-American rhetoric solely to win over the silent majority that some refer to as “the couch party.” In the last few months, it has also become a means of justifying raids on the headquarters of 17 foreign and local organizations and the detention of 43 NGO workers of various nationalities.
They accuse NGOs of receiving “illegitimate” funds and using them for prohibited activities, thereby violating the sovereignty of the state. This is in addition to accusations of political training for the parties, conducting opinion polls from random samples of the population, supporting election campaigns, and mobilizing voters for the elections without a permit.
It is for these reasons, according to SCAF, that they have arrested a number of activists who will be put before the courts. The first trial date is set for February 26.
Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Abul Naga, who was a pillar of the Mubarak regime for 10 years, denied that the persecution of NGOs is tied to their role in exposing the crimes and shortcomings of the military council.
Abul Naga justifies the campaign against NGOs by saying that before 2011, there were 800 NGOs in Egypt, whereas by the end of 2011 there were 4,500, including 80 foreign organizations.
She adds that the most suspicious aspect of this increase was the rise in foreign aid to these organizations. Between 2006 and 2010, NGOs in Egypt reportedly received US$60 million, whereas between March and June of 2011, this aid totaled US$28.8 million.
By then why has Abul Naga been silent all these months about NGOs and not decided to pursue them until the deadline for the transition to civilian rule was near?
She has not explained why her government has been silent about the opening of branches for US Democrats and Republicans in Egypt since 2004 and only suddenly realized that they are operating without permission and receiving funds from abroad.
Professor of political science Hassan Nafaa attributed this move to the rise in criticism that the political movements and human rights organizations have leveled at SCAF, because of its mismanagement of the transitional period.
Since the revolution, the military has taken strong action against American NGOs. They have arrested 16 US citizens, including the son of the US secretary of transportation, something that Mubarak himself would have never done.
This has negatively impacted the relationship between Cairo and Washington, which is now threatening to cut off its aid to Egypt. Abul Naga, for her part, warns that “if Washington is not careful, they will push Egypt closer to Iran,” adding that “every state has trump cards in the field of politics, and Egypt is not an exception.”
Activists have seen this “anti-imperialist” campaign against NGOs as a farce. The director of the Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, Nasser Amin, says that prosecuting activists is a strategy intended to trick the public into thinking that there is a foreign conspiracy targeting Egypt.
He points to the contradiction in SCAF’s stance, saying that the military council will in no way be able to survive without American aid, of which the military receives the lion’s share.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.