U.S. non-government organizations told Congress on Thursday that an Egyptian government minister from the Mubarak era is behind the crackdown on their employees in Egypt.
Leaders of three NGOs under investigation in Egypt told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abul Naga launched a secretive fact-finding committee aimed at undermining pro-democracy groups working in Egypt.
“There is no doubt that Minister Abul Naga has taken the lead on the attacks against our organization; she has been a longstanding opponent,” said David Kramer, president of Freedom House.
Kramer told lawmakers that no aid should be channeled anymore through Abul Naga’s ministry, which used to receive U.S. non-military aid to Egypt before Congress decided last year to channel some of it through pro-democracy groups.
“We can safely say that Faiza Abul Naga started this, but I think it has gotten out of control since then,” said Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute. (IRI)
“With her lies about our activities, she has managed to convince some of the (Egyptian) military that we were doing nefarious things," Craner added.
Abul Naga has been in office since the days of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. She says civil society groups like Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute have been seeking to “sow chaos, thwart the development of a strong and democratic Egypt, and turn the revolution to the interest of the United States and Israel.”
Armed military forces stormed the NGOs’ offices last December, seizing property and documents and interrogating employees for hours before banning them from leaving the country. Despite repeated warnings from the Obama administration that Egypt could be jeopardizing $1.3 billion in annual military aid if it moves forward with prosecutions, Egyptian officials proceeded with charging 43 activists, 20 of them Americans, with crimes that included operating without registration and illegally accepting foreign funds – that is, U.S. government dollars - without the agreement of the Egyptian government.
“Trial with the possibility of prison time for our staff appears to be the most likely outcome at present,” said IRI President Craner.
Relations between Cairo and Washington are growing increasingly tense over the issue. During the hearing, several Congressmen questioned the U.S. decision to continue to provide $1.3. billion of aid to Egypt in light of the current row over pro-democracy groups.
The NGO said the charges against their employees were false and that they were not operating in an illegal or improper manner. They said Abul Naga and the military council backing her are making a political play aimed at deflecting attention from the lack of accountability and transparency in the current leadership, and are leaking misinformation about the groups to the state-owned media to fuel nationalist sentiment and stoke anti-U.S. rhetoric.
According to Kramer, another part of Abul Naga’s calculus may be resentment that the Obama Administration decided to move $20 million in aid from her ministry’s control to NDI and IRI to help with Egyptian elections.
“The crackdown on civil society represents a clear effort to block a democratic transition in Egypt,” said Kramer.
“The reason I’m suggesting we look at suspending military aid is because I fear that whoever is making these decisions thinks there is no price for the actions they’re taking.”
In addition to the 10 NGOs that were raided in late December, the military council is investigating approximately 400 other NGO groups in Egypt.
(Angela Simaan is a producer in Al Arabiya’s DC bureau. Follow her on Twitter @angelasimaan)