The Cairo offices of at least five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were raided on Thursday by Egyptian prosecutors accompanied by police and military personnel.
The five NGOs were the Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP); the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory; and the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House.
All five raided offices were sealed and locked, their respective representative said.
While prosecutors refused to comment on why the five organizations were raided, local human rights activists say the move may be part of a wider government crackdown targeting critics of violations committed by the former regime and the current caretaker junta.
"The government never dared do such a thing in the Mubarak era," prominent Egyptian rights activist Negad El-Bourai said via Twitter.
The raids follow a spate of recent allegations by the government that several NGOs operating in Egypt, as well as a handful of recently established political parties, had received illicit, unregistered funding from abroad.
"We’re still not sure of anything," said Emad Mubarak of the Cairo-based Freedom of Expression Center. "But the government’s excuse might be that they’re auditing the NGOs’ files following charges that several of them had received illicit foreign funding."
In July, the government of former prime minister Essam Sharaf drew up a fact-finding committee – headed by El-Guindi – to investigate charges of foreign funding for unlicensed local and international NGOs. Sharaf’s committee sought to blacklist any NGO or political party found to have requested financial assistance from USAID.
In October, Minister of Justice Mohamed Abdel Aziz El-Guindy announced that he had commissioned two judges to investigate foreign funding allegations. At the time, El-Guindy said that any organization found guilty of the practice would be charged with “betraying Egypt by deliberately promoting political strife.”
A few weeks after the February ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) allocated some $65 million towards "democratic development” programs in Egypt – and over $100 million for “infrastructure development.”
According to a November report in Campaigns & Elections magazine some $200 million was funneled into Egyptian politics through the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute.
Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, told C&E at the time that the focus of the monies - officially ear-marked for both "democratic" and "infrastructure development” – was primarily spent on helping smaller political parties compete against the better organized Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party.
Reports of the Obama administration trying to purchase foreign elections by funneling funds from USAID and various US-based NGO's also surfaced in Kenya in 2009 and the recent, hotly contested, Russian elections.
Moscow is reportedly probing US funds aimed at launching opposition parties into power and bringing down the party of Russian prime minister Vladamir Putin.
But with widespread unrest in Egypt, it remains unclear, however, whether or not Thursday’s raids were related to findings of US interference in Egypt's domestic politics.
The raids come as Israel’s right and left are at dagger points over proposed legislation that would forbid foreign donations to political NGOs in Israel. Israel’s left-wing NGOs receive significant portions of their budgets from foreign governments and organizations that – their criticism say – are working against the interests on the Jewish state.
USAID and other State Department-related NGOs funnel significant funds to Israeli NGO’s under the headings of “democratic” and “infrastructure development” as well.
The conduct of the US administration in Kenya, Egypt, and Russia raises the specter that US President Barack Obama – whose dislike for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is no secret – may attempt a putsch in Israel’s next elections by indirectly funding opposition parties in a bid to unseat the Likud.