Two takes on Egypt's NGO law

Here's the Egyptian government's, through its foreign policy blog – clearly highlighting that the NGO law, about domestic regulation of society, is perceived as a foreign policy issues (indeed, I would say bargaining chips) by the Morsi administration because it makes Americans and Europeans (and so many Egyptians too of course) so anxious: 

The NGO draft law proposed by the Presidency affirms the basic concepts of access, empowerment, and supporting various forms of civil work upon which the law is based, while taking into account the principles of transparency, respect for the constitution and law, and openness to different experiences around the world in the field of civil society work.  The bill also activates the role of Egyptians abroad and aims to restore Egypt’s soft powers internally and externally.
. . .
The Presidency believes that the new NGO bill will encourage civil society work, facilitate its procedures and expand its sphere, away from any bureaucratic and monitoring constraints other than the general follow-up of the responsible body to ensure transparency and protect the rights of all Egyptians in conformance with the constitution and law.
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On AP's piece on US democracy promotion funding in Egypt

US democracy aid went to favored groups in Egypt:

Interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the workers' protest and the broader government crackdown with the raids helped expose what U.S. officials do not want to admit publicly: The U.S. government spent tens of millions of dollars financing and training liberal groups in Egypt, the backbone of the Egyptian uprising. This was done to build opposition to Islamic and pro-military parties in power, all in the name of developing democracy and all while U.S. diplomats were assuring Egyptian leaders that Washington was not taking sides.

"We were picking sides," said a senior U.S. official involved in discussions with Egyptian leaders after last year's revolution swept President Hosni Mubarak from power after three decades. The official requested anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.

Since the December raids, U.S. officials have scrambled to repair their once close relationship with Egypt. But the damage wasn't done overnight or as a result of the raids.

Documents and interviews with U.S. and Egyptian officials show:

— U.S. diplomats knew as far back as March 2008 that Egyptian leaders might close democracy programs and arrest workers, and last year some even discussed the possibility of a stern Egyptian response to dumping $65 million into democracy training after the Arab Spring uprisings, a sharp increase from past spending.

— Democracy training programs with strong ties to the U.S. political parties received the biggest share, $31.8 million, and spent it with few strings attached. IRI refused to work with members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, an Islamic group that holds more seats in the elected parliament than any other party in the country. IRI's Democratic counterpart, the National Democratic Institute, offered training and support to Brotherhood members.

— Nearly six years before the Egyptian government filed charges against the U.S. democracy workers, its leaders severely restricted the American democracy programs after a controversy over public comments by IRI's director.

A few reactions:

✪ Can we please defund IRI? And fire Sam Lahood?

✪ AP here is overstating the 2008 threat to close these programs by Egypt. In 2008, the US Embassy in Cairo moved to repair the relationship with the Egyptians and actually accepted Egyptian veto power over some of the money spent. After the revolution it moved back to the 2002-2008 position which was not to give the Egyptian government a veto.

✪ This particular bit has to be illegal under US law and should be subject to a Freedom of Information request:

Despite a U.S. commitment to make public the details of its democracy aid program in Egypt, USAID has refused to identify all the groups that received money and the grant amounts. The official said the agency disclosed the list to Egyptian leaders, but will not release information publicly about grant recipients that don't want to be identified. That has surprised some State Department officials.

"All I remember is, there were weekly meetings this time last year about how this all had to be posted publicly," said a senior State Department official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive diplomatic matters. More than a year after citizens rallied in Tahrir Square for new leadership, the U.S.-Egypt relationship remains fragile.

✪ The article quotes Frank Wisner — whom I consider too close to the Egyptian military. Wisner is a lobbyist for the US defense industry and was the Obama administration's conduit to the military during the 2011 uprising. He's hardly an impartial man.

✪ The article perpetuates the myth that it's all about Fayza Aboul Naga — the real question is, who egged her on and backed her and coordinated the campaign of anti-Americanism in the Egyptian state media? US officials focus on Fayza because the real target — the military and the intelligence services — they don't want to confront. (She's a handy scapegoat for Congress, too.)

Overall this uncovers one important element — contrary to its mission and its statements IRI was engaged in biased political activity, and in doing so has damaged any similar efforts by other organizations. In the overall take of the story, however, apart from the over-funding of IRI and NDI, the article gives the impression of US conspiracy against SCAF and the MB. This is hardly true, since the US has collaborated closely with the military and engaged vigorously with the MB. The money and efforts spent trying to support the "liberal" parties is minimal and not very effective.

There is no conspiracy to empower liberals in Egypt, there is only a focus on retaining core interest — military cooperation, Israel — no matter who is in power. Beyond that, democracy promotion through things like party training does very little except make US politicians who fund it feel good and give officials a talking point. I don't know whether the US can encourage more democracy in Egypt, but it can certainly encourage less autocracy — by stopping the military aid to the country.

Another law against NGOs in Egypt

Here is a statement by a group of Egyptian NGOs about a bill circulating to overhaul legislation governing how civil society operates — in part in reaction to the recent US-Egypt NGO crisis.

The undersigned human rights organizations declare their utter rejection of the new draft law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), prepared by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs and which aims to nationalize civil society. Under this law civil society would be considered an institution of the government, and NGO staff would be regarded as civil servants. Furthermore, the new law would impose several new arbitrary restrictions aiming to terrorize civil society activists.

Read the rest here. Of course the bill prohibits receiving funding from abroad without government approval, as previous legislation did, forcing many NGOs to register as legal corporations. It also bars membership in international NGO networks without government approval — meaning that, say, an Egyptian anti-torture group might not be able to join an anti-torture network.

The bill was prepared by the Ministry of Social Insurance, where clearly the same mindset and mentality as the old regime thrives. It's about time MPs start drafting their own laws rather than let Mubarak-era technocrats do it. The only question is whether the Islamist dominated parliament might actually approve of this new text.

 

Now that the American NGO workers are safe, let's review aid to Egypt

A few minutes ago the plane carrying NGO workers out of Egypt took off, ending the diplomatic spat between Washington and Cairo. Concerns naturally remain about the other nationals, most notably the Egyptians involved who risk the most. And as predicted outrage over what appears to be a clear case of executive pressure being put on the judges is mounting, including from NGOs that have been targeted themselves and have denounced the case as a political fabrication from the beginning. For instance this press release from the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession:

The ACIJLP raises many concerns regarding the decision of judges' step-down in view of the reasons that have been announced by the judges which have been represented in "Feeling of Embarrassment", as well as the time of such decision which came before the judges' consideration in the complaint submitted by 8 foreigners regarding the decision to prevent them from traveling, a matter which make the ACIJLP believes that there is an inappropriate interventions which may be practiced against the Department of the Cairo Criminal Court with respect to this case.

Whether such interventions, about which ACIJLP is concerned, are practiced by members who belong to the judicial authority like the Head of the Court of Appeal in Cairo, or by executive bodies which led the judged to step down, this is considered the first event of its kind. It is considered an intervention in and breach of the independence of judges and the judicial authority in Egypt. The Egyptian judiciary has long been suffering from the practices which violate its independence like exploiting it in political disputes; starting from tracing opponents and political activists, imposing guard on syndicates, and at last banning civil NGOs work.

In support of the independence of the Egyptian judiciary, the ACIJLP calls upon the president of the Supreme Judicial Council to open an independent and urgent investigation to uncover the circumstances of the decision of the judges' step-down and to detect any pressure has been practiced whether by the government or those engaged in such pressure and to use fair trial, if necessary.

If I were an Egyptian politician, I'd be calling for the heads of a lot of the officials involved to roll.

But let us sidestep this issue and discuss the future of the aid relationship. Why should the US continue to provide aid for a country that accuses it of trying to split it up and, specifically, to a military establishment that is neither democratic nor that particularly friendly? There may be strategic reasons, but the core reason is one of political corruption — not in Egypt, but in the US. Shana Marshall makes this point well in Why the U.S. won’t cut military aid to Egypt:

The recent crackdown on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt has sparked a new round of diplomatic hand wringing over Washington's long-standing military aid program. Despite tepid threats from the White House and Congress, the United States is unlikely to end official military assistance -- not because of concerns over Egypt's peace treaty with Israel or Washington's desire to maintain influence over Cairo -- but because the aid benefits a small and influential coterie of elites in both capitals. In the United States, the aid program provides a large and predictable source of demand for weapons exporters, while in Cairo, collaborative military production with U.S. firms help subsidize the army's commercial economic ventures.

Although domestic interest groups are rarely invoked in the debate over military aid to Egypt, the $1.3 billion in annual assistance represents a significant subsidy to U.S. weapons manufacturers. For instance, the General Dynamics manufacturing facility in Lima, Ohio where the M1A1 Abrams tank is built will not have more work orders from the U.S. Army until 2017 when the current M1 tank fleet is up for refurbishing. Egypt's latest $1.3 billion order of 125 M1A1s (Cairo's 11th order since the late 1980s) will keep those production lines open until 2014 building knock down kits that are then shipped and assembled in Egypt. Although shipping fully assembled tanks to Egypt would employ more U.S. workers, without the contract the Lima plant (in a crucial electoral swing state) would shutter its doors and General Dynamics's bottom line would take a serious hit. Looming reductions in the U.S. defense budget have made General Dynamics and other defense producers even more concerned with keeping such funding channels open.

That's why Washington does not want aid cut: it's, among other things, a subsidy for the US defense industry. No doubt there's also senior Pentagon and DoD officials who want to back it in the hope of landing plush jobs at Raytheon and elsewhere when they retire (in this respect the US is not unlike Egypt) and Congresspeople like pleasing donors and creating jobs for constituents.

Yet the aid to Egypt is worth reviewing, both sides, now more than ever before — and that conversation should start with the new president of Egypt, who hopefully will not be a front for the Egyptian military.

 

Travel ban lifted on US NGO workers

This is what Reuters is reporting:

(Reuters) - Egypt has decided to lift a travel ban preventing American pro-democracy activists from leaving the country, judicial sources said on Wednesday, a move that is likely to defuse a standoff that has plunged U.S.-Egyptian ties into a crisis.

It was not immediately clear when any of the activists involved in the case would leave the country. Sixteen of the 43 people facing charges are Americans. Some of them are not in Egypt and some others have sought refuge in the U.S. embassy.

Since late this morning I've been getting rumors that the Americans had in fact already left, or that a deal had been brokered by Jeffrey Feltman in DC, or somesuch. I did not know what to believe, but there were already signs earlier today by Hillary Clinton's statements when she said "we will resolve this issue concerning our NGOs in the very near future." She was speaking to lawmakers in the US.

I suppose my first reaction is good for them — they'll be able to leave the country, won't have to face the risk of jail. Good for US-Egypt relations too, I suppose, with no images of Americans in a court cage or facing trials. The stupid descriptions of this situation as a "hostage crisis" and hyperbole on both sides threatened to turn this into a political issue and, in an election year, into an electoral issue.

But as I sit watching Mona Shazli, one of Egypt's top political talk-show hosts, appear rather flummoxed by the whole thing, there are signs that Egyptians' reaction will be to think (no matter what they think of the merits of the case) that all the talk about their judicial system being above political influence being total bullshit. Especially after the cryptic way the judges involved in the case recused themselves earlier today. No doubt some Egyptians will not be happy about the way this unfolded, in the way it makes their country look. (Perhaps though that's a hidden plus if it further discredits SCAF!)

Of course, Egypt deserves to look ridiculous in this case. The government media raised anti-Americanism to hysterical levels. The officials and judges involved painted a ludicrous picture of a foreign conspiracy to divide the country. Politicians rushed to jump on the we-don't-need-the-khawagas'-fluss-anyway bandwagon, and the prime minister gave credence to an ill-thought-out campaign to "replace" foreign aid by asking cash-strapped citizens to donate.

You know what it all reminded me of? Mubarak-era Egypt, with its weird hysterical petulance.

Of course, there are many unanswered questions. What will happen to the others indicted in the case? What will happen to the NGOs involved?What will happen to the manner in which the law, officials and state media treat NGOs more generally? And what was the price paid by the United States — particularly as the Obama administration is still supposed to confirm to Congress that Egypt is making progress in its democratic transition? 

 

In Translation: Nabil Fahmy on the US-Egypt NGO crisis

A few days ago the trial of 43 NGO workers — some of them US citizens — started amidst a campaign of hysterical anti-Americanism in some of the Egyptian press. In the US, the question has been handled with arrogance by part of the political class, and no doubt a degree of alarm amidst defense lobbyists, Pentagon officials and others who worry that the crisis could end the $1.3bn in subsidies to the US defense industry that military aid to Egypt primarily is, as well as strategic relations with Egypt. While the tone become more subdued among senior officials on both sides, the outcome is still hard to predict — because everything is unpredictable in Egypt these days, and because the US is in an election year.

One of the calmest, down-to-earth Egyptian commentaries on the affair I’ve seen is by Nabil Fahmy, who was Egypt’s ambassador in Washington for much of the late Mubarak period — notably when tensions with the Bush administration were at their highest. In this piece, Fahmy gives his opinion that the crisis will be overcome, and reflects on the mistakes made by both sides. He is most lucid when look at his own side, though, notably the arbitrary nature of the enforcement of NGO legislation that belong to the pre-revolutionary era. Fahmy is sometimes said to be a potential future foreign minister, and some believe he was sidelined (or chose to take a leave of absence from the ministry of foreign affairs) at the end of his career, as the Mubarak era entered its last phase.

The article was, as always, ably translated by Industry Arabic, the full-service translation company. Those guys are awesome!

Egyptian-American Relations after the NGO Crisis

By Nabil Fahmy, al-Shorouk, 26 February 2012

In recent weeks, we have witnessed extreme strain in Egyptian-American relations. In the sphere of public opinion in both countries, this crisis has been accompanied by demagoguery exploited by politicians and media personalities, as well as some officials. They have carelessly reported inaccurate information, or adopted slogans and demands that are not in their countries’ best interests.

I will not go into the charges leveled against a number of both foreign and Egyptian NGOs, as well as against governments in detail, as they have now been put before the court. Rather, I will first limit myself to some brief observations before moving on to the most important issue, which is the future of Egyptian-American relations.

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Judges in Egypt's NGO case recuse themselves

From al-Ahram:

Three judges  in charge of handling the recent case filed by the government against a number of US and Egyptian non-governmental organisation (NGOs), announced Tuesday afternoon that they have submitted their resignation from the case "for reasons of discomfort." The 14 Egyptian and 29 foreign aid workers face trial for receiving illegal foreign funding and for working without a formal license: they have been accused of posing a threat to Egypt's national security.

Judge Mahmoud El-Khodairy, lawyer and head of the People's Assembly Legislative Committee, explained Tuesday night to private TV channel Al-Hayat that a judge stepping down for "reasons of discomfort" could be due to an existing relationship the judge has with any of the defendants, the accused or the lawyers. A judge may also relinquish the case, he added, if the court itself was involved in any details of the case. When a judge does resign from a case, the lawsuit is transferred to another district court within a "brief" time period, El-Khodairy concluded.

Reasons of discomfort? Try talcum powder. But seriously, this either means something fishy is going on or that the trial will take even longer than planned. The next date was meant to be April 26, which is a while away.

McInerney on the NGO crisis

Stephen McInerney of POMED — who knows more about NGOs in Egypt and US policy towards Egypt, notably aid, than most — has a piece on the US-Egypt NGO crisis in Foreign Affairs. It's a good roundup, and he ends on the following advice:

Many observers have argued that the U.S. must maintain its assistance in order to preserve its leverage with the Egyptian military. But this crisis is exactly the moment to use this leverage. The fate of civil society in Egypt and beyond is very much at stake. If the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid can attack pro-democracy organizations with no real consequences, authoritarian governments worldwide will be emboldened to follow suit. As such, the administration should take a tougher line, making clear that military aid will certainly be interrupted unless the attacks on NGOs are halted and all charges are dropped. The White House deserves credit for having made support for civil society an important pillar of its approach to strengthening democracy worldwide. Now is the time to demonstrate the strength of that commitment.

I'm half-sympathetic and half-opposed to what he argues. I completely agree that not cutting or revising aid programs should the Americans (and others) indicted be imprisoned and if undemocratic policies towards civil society continue would send the wrong message.

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Aronson on the US-Egypt NGO debacle

This opinion piece on the US-Egypt NGO crisis was sent in by Geoffrey Aronson. Aronson is director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington and author of From Sideshow to Center Stage – US Policy towards Egypt.

There is an increasing chorus of US voices among the policy cognoscenti and Congress threatening to stop over 1 billion in US aid to Egypt or to make it dependent upon some politicized certification of Egypt’s democratic bona fides. This course risks undermining the foundations of a core relationship at the very moment when the promise of building a new and reinvigorated partnership is on the horizon. However good it may feel, being right about what the State Department has described as Egypt’s “persecution” of US employees of the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and Freedom House for assisting local civil society groups is not as useful as being smart. The emotive issues highlighted by their conflict with the Egyptian government cannot be permitted to become the centerpiece of bilateral relations. Doing so plays into the hands of counter-revolution, creates the impression that US-Egyptian relations are simply a test of wills, and feeds Egyptian suspicions that the West is using “democracy” as a cynical tool to short-circuit the revolution.

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A point of clarification on US aid to Egypt and peace with Israel

It has been much-reported that Muslim Brotherhood spokesman / head of parliamentary foreign relations committee Essam al-Erian threatened to review the peace treaty with Israel should aid be cut. See for instance:

In the clearest of multiple Brotherhood statements on the subject, Essam al-Erian, who is chairman of the Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said the aid was ''one of the commitments of the parties that signed the peace agreement, so if there is a breach from one side it gives the right of review to the parties''.

 

''We will be harmed,'' he added, ''so it is our right to review the matter.''

Other Muslim Brotherhood leaders have repeated the argument that a cut in aid could lead them to review the treaty, or that such a cut would be in breach of the treaty.

To my knowledge, this has no basis in law. The MB may want to review the peace treaty, as many others in Egypt want to, in order to renegotiate the degree to which the military can operate in Sinai. There are good reasons to do so in order to gain better control of the Peninsula. But the aid has nothing to do with the treaty. This was confirmed recently by Jimmy Carter when he was in Cairo, and you can check the text of the treaty itself.

Generally speaking, there is a confusion of terms on this issue.

  • The 1978 Camp David negotiations led to the drafting of a broad set of principles known as the Accords, that would look at a global solution to the Arab-Israeli crisis, including its Israeli-Palestinian component. While signed by the US, Egypt and Israel, the accords were never implemented, largely because the Israelis did not want them to be.
  • The 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt delineated borders, paved the way for the return of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, and imposed restrictions on military activity in Egypt. It does not contain any provisions for aid.
  • An aid relationship exists between Israel and the US and Egypt and the US (with the latter since 1975). It was informally framed after Camp David as partly a reward for the peace, and partly to ensure that Israel would get proportionally more aid than Egypt and be helped by the US to retain a military edge. These terms were negotiated, and later renegotiated between the militaries and governments of the three countries, but there is nothing in the treaty itself that obliges the US to disburse aid of any kind to either country.

So when the Brothers make threats about a cut in aid leading to the collapse of the treaty, they either don't know what they're talking about or are making baseless threats. And moreover, by linking aid to the treaty, they are in effect suggesting that Egypt's policy towards Israel is indeed up for sale, and that they will gladly take the money to remain quiet on Egypt-Israeli relations. Is this what they meant to say, after having spent much of the last three decades denouncing the treaty and Egypt's slavish acquiescence to pro-Israel US policies?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Who is escalating the US-Egypt NGO crisis?

To me, the answer has been clear for two weeks or so and more so in the last week, when Tantawy's reassuring words in a cabinet meeting were followed by the launching of an extremely aggressive state media campaign led by al-Ahram. And guess what is supposed to have happened today: the editor of al-Ahram was replaced.

The state media in Egypt has been fragmented, but state television and major organs like al-Ahram have long been the province of General Intelligence. Their men ran these places, and perhaps they still do.

The only logical alternative explanation would be that SCAF is consciously playing a good cop-bad cop routine where they set themselves up as the nice guys but point to bad guys (and public opinion, and the Brothers) who can be much more trouble than just dealing with the military.

The other interesting point here is that senior US officials have discreetly made the rounds in Washington in the last week saying that SCAF was not responsible for the crisis (which may be to protect SCAF from Congress, but is still telling.) More likely in my opinion is that this is partly true, and we are dealing with a fragmented regime today much as we were in the last years of the Mubarak era. Or a mixture of both good cop/bad cop and inner-regime intrigues. 

The FT puts it well here:

Some analysts, however, argue that there is more to the argument than distraction, suggesting that forces in the unreformed security services that underpinned the Mubarak regime could be laying the ground for an attempt to torpedo the country’s political transition.

“I am hearing assertions that the military council does not want this fierce [anti-American] campaign,” said Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, a former Egyptian diplomat and an analyst. “This is something that is organised but within a more general situation of chaos ... The army and the council care about the military aid, but not so the security ­services.”

Especially if the security services are worried that SCAF will sell them out to the incoming civilians to win their own immunity.

Games, and games within games. If this goes on Egypt's politics will start to resemble Algeria's.

Egyptian NGOs condemn foreign orgs crackdown

A large number of Egypt's leading human rights and social development NGOs have issued a statement condemning the indictment of 44 NGO workers that has created a diplomatic crisis between the US and Egypt. This is the first concerted condemnation of the manufactured NGO crisis, and comes as the Egyptian media in recent days (despite SCAF head Tantawi's conciliatory statements towards the US after meeting with Pentagon officials) unleashed a campaign against the US and NGOs more generally (as being foreign pawns, etc.). I consider this a very positive development, and a courageous move for these NGOs that have a lot more to lose from a crackdown on civil society.

Here's the opening part of the statement:

February 15, 2012

Orchestrated campaign against human rights organizations: Facts absent; the public intentionally misled

The undersigned organizations strongly condemn the ongoing slandering and intimidation of civil society organizations, particularly human rights groups, and note that the referral of 43 Egyptian and foreign nationals to a criminal court is politically motivated. The affected institutions have been operating for several years without being asked to suspend their activities and without their offices being shut down. Moreover, in October the Egyptian government asked two of these organizations to monitor the parliamentary elections, although Article 2 of Decree 20/2011 regulating the role of civil society in monitoring elections - issued by the chair of the Supreme Elections Commission - specifically bars non-Egyptian NGOs from monitoring elections unless they present a permit from the Foreign Ministry authorizing them to do so in Egypt. Although this permit is limited to election monitoring, it nevertheless legitimizes the licensed organizations, insofar as a permit to engage in such a specific activity necessarily assumes the organization’s legal, legitimate presence in Egypt.

In a sudden disregard of these facts, the raiding the offices of these and other Egyptian organizations with armed forces and their referral to trial raise numerous questions. Indeed, it makes one question whether this development is in fact based on considerations for “the rule of law” and “judicial independence,” as senior government officials claim. 

Here's the full statement in PDF.

Egypt: Abu Ismail's campaign against US aid

The above graphic is from the Facebook page of presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, aka the world's cuddliest Salafi. It says "Buy your dignity for only LE72".

The calculation it makes is that Egypt's $1.3bn in US military aid amounts to about LE6bn, which divided by 84 million Egyptians makes just about LE72. What a bargain! Of course Sheikh Hazem — a Salafi from the Muslim Brotherhood (the MB-Salafi distinction becomes irrelevant away from syndicate and national politics) — is always full of brilliant ideas. His entry on Wikipedia says he "has presented 10 great national projects in all fields to overcome most of the Egyptian people problems." I'll have to do a fuller profile at some point.

Yet another sign that the US-Egypt NGO crisis is plumbing into new depths of facile populism. Of course, not only on the Egyptian side.

Names of indicted in Egypt's NGO affair

Via @adamakary who had the scoop and live-tweeted it, here are the names and nationalities of the 44 persons indicted by the Egyptian public prosecutor in the illegal foreign funding NGOs affair (actual spelling may differ):

  • Konrad Adenauer (2): Andreas Jacobs (DE) and Christina Baade (DE)
  • International Center For Journalists (5): Patrick Butler (US), Natasha Tynes (US), Mida(?) Michelle (US), Yehya Zakaria (EG) Islam Shafiq (EG) 
  • Freedom House (7): Charles Dunne (US), Sherif Ahmed Sobhi Mansour (US), Samir Salim (Jordan), Mohamed Abdel Aziz (EG), Nancy Gamal Okeyl (EG), Basem Ali (EG), Magdy Moharam (EG)
  • International Republican Institute (14): Sam Lahood (US), Sherien Sahany (US), Christine Angel (US) Sort Chik (Serb), Hans Homis (Serb), John George (US), Reeda Khedr (Palestinian), Osama Azizi (US), Sian Mark (US), Elizabeth Dugan (US), Ahmed Shawqi (EG), Ahmed Abdel Aziz (EG), Ahmed Adam (EG), Essam Borei (EG)
  • National Democratic Institute (16): Julie Hughes (US), Almadin Krotovich (Serb), Bomeedir Milic (Serb), Layla Gafar (US), Robert Becker (US), Kabir Moderibee (US), Mariana Koravitch (Serb), Sitia Sia Leenhag (US), Dana Dikono (US), Ali Suleiman (Leb), Maron Safir (Leb), Michael James (US), Mohamed Ashraf (EG), Radwa Sayid (EG), Hafsa Halawa (EG), Amgad Morsi (EG)

Al-Ahram has also published a full list with ages in Arabic, but not affiliations.

I must say I really don't know how this is going to play out. It may be they are being indicted to fast-track the judicial process so that they can go to mistrial and acquittal and get the whole thing done with. Or they may convict, sentencing fines and, for the good cop part, go ahead with registration of these NGOs. Or worse...

Update: A few more details via Abdel Rahman Hussein, for the Guardian:

Judge Ashraf al-Ashmawy confirmed on Monday the case had been referred to the Cairo criminal court, where the NGO workers will face charges of "accepting funds and benefits from an international organisation" to pursue an activity "prohibited by law".

They are also accused of carrying out "political training programmes", supporting election campaigns and illegally financing individuals and groups, the judge said in a statement.

Those involved waited in trepidation for further details. "It's inexplicable," said Julie Hughes, country director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI). "We don't even know what the charges are."

"I'm trying to stay optimistic but I'd be lying if I said this wasn't stressful on me, the organisation, our families. But I'm proud of the individuals working here. We'll hang in there."

Sen. Leahy declares war on Fayza Aboul Naga

From a statement on the dispute over US NGOs in Egypt by Senator Patrick Leahy:

Many suspect that the force behind this crackdown is Minister of International Cooperation, Faiza Aboul Naga, who was described in a Washington Post editorial this week as “a civilian holdover from the Mubarak regime” and “an ambitious demagogue [who] is pursuing a well-worn path in Egyptian politics – whipping up nationalist sentiment against the United States as a way of attacking liberal opponents at home.”  Given Minister Aboul Naga’s recent statements, I strongly believe that no future U.S. Government funds should be provided to or through that ministry as long as she is in charge.  As the chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, I am confident there is strong support in Congress for this position.

Read the full statement here. This diplomatic spat has just gotten a whole lot more interesting.

[Via @kristenchick]

Have all of Egypt's lobbyists gone?

The news that several of the Egyptian government's main lobbyists in Washington have ended their contracts should come as a wake-up call to the Egyptian military, its foreign ministry and Minister of Asking Khawagas for Fluss Fayza Aboul Naga. These were powerhouse lobbyists:

The lobbying firms include the Livingston Group, run by former Representative Robert L. Livingston, Republican of Louisiana; the Moffett Group, run by former Representative Toby Moffett, Democrat of Connecticut; and the Podesta Group, owned by Tony Podesta, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. Mr. Podesta has close ties to the Obama administration.

The firms were widely criticized for distributing talking points defending the Egyptian government’s raid. They shared a lobbying contract worth more $1.1 million a year to represent Egypt’s interests in Washington, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

Until recently these lobbyists were backing the Egyptian government line that these NGOs were operating illegally. I wonder what it takes for a lobbyist to drop these kinds of contracts; after all it's not like we're talking major human rights violations here (like the killing of protestors in the last few months). I guess it must have been that the lobbyists were exasperated that the Egyptians took action against their advice that alienated powerful congressmen. I've met American lobbyists for Egypt before and they're all livid that the Egyptian generals treat the Foreign Military Assistance package as "our money" – you can imagine how well that goes down with the representative or senator who is appropriating that funding.

This leaves the power of Egyptian lobbying in the US quite frail, particularly since a major lobbying and PR contract that had been controlled by Ahmed Ezz (and was mostly used to advocate for Gamal Mubarak as a business-minded reformist) has now been repurposed to makeover Ezz as some persecuted entrepreneur who does not deserve to be in prison. In short, I'm not sure who is left lobbying for the Egyptian government or the military, which perhaps explains why a military delegation has been sent to Washington to sort out the mess caused by the whole NGO fiasco.

On the US-Egypt NGO debacle

First US, German and Egyptian NGOs were raided in late December, and now US personnel that has been unable to work in Cairo because their equipment has been confiscated are barred from leaving the country, prompting outrage in the US. Congress is now putting emphasis again on the need for conditionality on US aid to the military, and the likes of Senator Patrick Leahy now say “But we no longer have a blank check for the Egyptian military.” A high-level delegation is now coming from Washington to defuse tensions.

There is a lot at stake in this first major spat between the US and Egypt since Mubarak is overthrown, and it’s gotten a lot more complicated than when it was just about Egyptian reticence to allow uncontrolled foreign funding and getting a bargaining chip over the military aid issue. Whether it is the real cause of the travel ban, there is a judicial process in the works, a real issue of sovereignty for Egypt. And there is what is interpreted an attempt by SCAF to cast activists as foreign-funded, distract from Gulf financing which may be overlooked (very few of the NGOs under investigation are Gulf-funded ones, despite widespread knowledge of millions being channeled to Islamic charities). NDI and IRI’s quasi-governmental aspect (they receive much of their funding through the National Endowment for Democracy and the US government) is one aspect of the problem, but so is the general legal limbo they have operated under for several years (it is true they are unregistered, but that’s because they were not allowed to so yet tolerated), as well as their more aggressive funding posture since the revolution and a certain amount of tone-deafness to Egyptian officials’ concerns about sovereignty.

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Egypt's raids on NGOs

Note: this post was written yesterday. I understand the US NGOs have had their property returned after the intervention of the US government.

I'm away from Cairo at the moment, so apart from a few panicked SMSs from friends and the coverage on Twitter I have not really followed yesterday's raids on six NGOs by the Egyptian police. Links for reported stories on what happened are at the bottom of the post. I want here only to give my own interpretation of what's happening.

Such a course of action was a possibility, of course, since last September or so when investigations into NGOs that receive foreign funding were initiated by SCAF, Minister of State for International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga and the ministry of justice. The fight over NGOs, and the fact that the Egyptian government seemed to be mostly drawing attention to Western-funded NGOs rather than Gulf-funded Islamic charities, is a manufactured crisis created to use as a card against Western, and more specifically US, pressure on the Egyptian government.

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Foreign funding in Egypt

Check out this article in yesterday's al-Ahram [PDF, I can't find the link on al-Ahram's abominable website]. It discusses ongoing government investigations into foreign funding of NGOs. About 80% of the article is dedicated to $65m in US government funding of American NGOs such as NDI and IRI. It goes on in some detail, although all of this info is no revelation and is published by the US authorities. The rest — an afterthought — is about millions of pounds being sent by the Gulf to unnamed organizations (it is known that the Salafi dawa group Ansar al-Sunna al-Mohammediya is among them). At one point they even talk about millions being sent by "the finance ministry of a small Gulf country" which probably means Kuwait. It's just that al-Ahram does not want to offend the Kuwaitis.

They have already investigated the personal accounts of NGO people in Egypt, who could face all sorts of legal hassles. But while dozens of human rights groups are cited in the reports, the Salafi groups that received funding barely get a look. And most of this money came in February and March. Some of the money that came in — LE86,150,000 to be exact — went to the Muhammad Alaa Mubarak foundation, set up in memory of Hosni Mubarak's grandson. But there, no details.

Egypt: worrying about the wrong foreign funding

In July, a mini-crisis of sorts erupted between Egypt and the United States over foreign funding. The spark was probably the congressional testimony of the new US ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, in June, in which she said that the US was earmarking $40m for USAID democracy and governance spending.

By late July, the $40m figure was being cited in the Egyptian media, and sometimes was inflated to $60m, the figure that the US State Dept. had considered spending earlier in the year. Public records showed that most of the money went to the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the International Federation for Electoral Systems (IFES) — some of which they no doubt redistributed to local partners. The media began to raise up a storm, while the government demanded clarifications from the US.

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