The Carter Center closes Egypt office, citing rights concerns

Egypt’s foreign ministry says it is “surprised” and “astonished”

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U.S. democracy watchdog The Carter Center announced on Wednesday the closure of its office in Egypt due to an “increasingly restrictive” political environment in the Arab world’s biggest nation.

“The Carter Center announced today that it has closed its field office in Egypt after nearly three years and that it will not deploy an observation mission to assess Egypt's parliamentary elections anticipated later this year,” the center said in a statement on its website.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said: "The current environment in Egypt is not conducive to genuine democratic elections and civic participation."

"I hope that Egyptian authorities will reverse recent steps that limit the rights of association and assembly and restrict operations of Egyptian civil society groups," Carter added.

In stringent criticism of Egyptian authorities, The Carter Center said: “The current political environment in Egypt is marked by a severe narrowing of political space and deep polarization.”

“There has been a crackdown on dissidents, opposition groups, and critical journalists, together with heightened restrictions on core freedoms of expression, assembly, and association,” the center added.

“Particularly troubling are the mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood supporters; the passage in late 2013 of the so-called protest law, which places broad restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and expression,” it added.

David Carroll, director of the democracy program at the Carter Center, told Al Arabiya News that “no single incident or events has led to our closure. Instead, it is a decision based on our assessment of the overall trend of developments, and our conclusion that the upcoming elections are unlikely to advance genuine democratization.”

Carroll said for the center to re-open in Egypt, there must be “strong and unequivocal protections for fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and that key laws do not undermine or contradict these obligations.”

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was “surprised” by the Carter Center’s move.

“The Foreign Ministry is surprised and astonished that the management of The Carter Center for Democracy has decided to close its office in Cairo,” the ministry said in an Arabic statement.

It said the center’s explanation for closing its office “included wrong assumptions and biased conclusions,” and questioned its “motives and objectives.”

The foreign ministry also denounced what it said were “false claims” and “blatant contradictions” of The Carter Center.

The center opened its office in Egypt in 2011 following the Jan. 25 uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. Since then, it organized observations mission for a series of elections.

Usama Saraya, former editor-in-chief of state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, said international rights groups sometimes “fail to understand the delicate transition Egypt is going through.”

“The Egyptian authorities are trying to shift towards democracy but due to security and political stability concerns, the country has to restrict certain extremists or political parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, for the sake of Egypt,” Saraya told Al Arabiya News.

“These foreign organizations and figures do not understand that and consider that Sisi is restricting freedoms in Egypt,” Saraya said.

He said the government is unlikely make amendments to its protest law or reverse course in its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

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