The Obama administration demanded an immediate explanation from Egyptian officials and said the computers and other items taken during the raids ought to be returned promptly. Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, warned that economic aid could be withheld if Cairo’s leaders do not respond appropriately.
“We were very clear that this issue needs immediate attention, and we look forward to hearing back from the Egypt government,” Nuland told reporters. She called the raids “inconsistent with the bilateral cooperation we have had over many years.”
Referring to recently approved congressional legislation tying U.S. aid to democratic progress in Egypt, Nuland said the country’s ruling military council “needs to be aware of this.”
‘Illegal foreign funding’
The coordinated raids Thursday appeared to reflect an effort by the embattled military chiefs to prove that foreign organizations have been funding and orchestrating the recent waves of unrest in which scores have been killed and hundreds wounded.
Egypt’s military leaders have shown little tolerance for criticism since they pushed President Hosni Mubarak aside amid nationwide demonstrations against his rule in February. They have arrested bloggers and tried thousands of activists and others in military court. They have also sought to absolve themselves of blame for the country’s recent problems by hinting vaguely at “foreign hands” and have demonized civil society organizations that accept U.S. and other foreign assistance.
Ironically, Egypt’s military is by far the country’s largest recipient of U.S. aid, receiving about $1.3 billion a year. The United States budgeted a fraction of that sum — $65 million — for pro-
democracy aid to Egypt this year.
Activists described the raids Thursday as the biggest crackdown on civil society in recent Egyptian history, noting that Mubarak had quietly tolerated many nongovernmental organizations during the latter part of his three-decade reign.
Among the Cairo offices raided Thursday were those of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House. Security forces confiscated computers, cellphones and documents. NDI’s offices in Alexandria and Assiut also were raided. Security forces stormed Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation and at least two Egyptian nongovernmental organizations: the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions and the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory.
NDI and IRI are democracy-building organizations backed by the U.S. government that operate globally. Both have been monitoring Egypt’s ongoing, multi-phase parliamentary elections. Freedom House advocates for democracy, political freedoms and human rights. All three organizations issued harshly worded condemnations of the raids.