David J. Kramer is president of Freedom House.
In her March 10 op-ed, “Why Egypt moved on the NGOs,” Fayza Aboulnaga, Egypt’s minister for planning and international cooperation, left out key facts and generally misrepresented the campaign she has been leading against civil society in that country. It is important to set the record straight.
Aboulnaga omitted from her Post column scurrilous charges she made against us last fall. “Evidence indicates an unequivocal desire and persistence to thwart any attempt at Egypt’s progress as a modern democratic country with a strong economy since that will pose a threat to Israel and American interests,” she said in testimony to prosecuting judges. She also testified that “Freedom House moreover was founded by the Jewish Lobbyists to hail accusations and criticisms against countries whose policies are not in line with US objectives.” She accused our organization of working “in coordination with the CIA.” Interesting that she opted not to repeat these absurd allegations in her op-ed. The anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism at the core of these assertions belie her insistence that this is solely a judicial matter.
Aboulnaga wrote in The Post that the dispute involves a handful of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating illegally in Egypt. Beyond the 10 organizations — five foreign and five domestic — that were raided on Dec. 29, some 400 Egyptian civil society organizations are under investigation by the government. All could be shut down and their staffs arrested in a heartbeat. In other words, what Aboulnaga has unleashed is a full-frontal assault against Egyptian civil society.
And let’s be clear: None of us is operating illegally. Freedom House’s application for registration was officially acknowledged by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry three days before the raid. Some of the other organizations raided Dec. 29 submitted their applications for registration in 2005 and 2006 and never received an answer from the government. Egyptian Law 84, which dates to 2002 and is still on the books, states that lack of denial of an application within 60 days constitutes acceptance of the organization as a legal entity.
To apply for registration, Law 84 requires an organization to establish a presence and hire a staff. Freedom House followed Egyptian law completely. Our staff met numerous times with government officials to explain our activities and intentions in the interest of full transparency. It is incorrect, as Aboulnaga claims and several Western correspondents in Cairo have reported, to say that we have been operating illegally in Egypt.
Aboulnaga wrote that “the investigating judge independently ordered investigators to inspect the offices of the unregistered NGOs on Dec. 29 and seize evidence. I am told that these actions are no different from those undertaken by U.S. law enforcement officials.”
What happened on Dec. 29 were not inspections. Heavily armed security forces stormed into our office and those of nine other organizations without any warning, prior requests for documentation or, in some cases, any legal authority or subpoena to do so. We have received no receipts or accounting for the equipment and documents they removed. The actions of Egyptian authorities have been very different from what one would see in any society based on the rule of law.