Donors poured money into efforts to strengthen civil society in Egypt following the democracy movement there that ousted Hosni Mubarak in hopes of addressing one of the key drivers of the uprising: public discontent over lack of channels for participation. But recent raids in the offices of several nongovernmental organizations in Cairo hint at the rough road ahead for local and international efforts to strengthen the country’s civil society.
Egyptian government officials have defended the raids as legitimate operations that are part of a wider investigation into the legality of the work of some local and international nongovernmental organizations in the country. The government has also questioned, on various occasions, the amount, source and purpose of the foreign funding received by these organizations.
>> Donors, NGOs decry raids on civil society, human rights groups in Egypt
Brian Whitaker, a former Middle East editor of the Guardian, suggests the real issue behind the raids is not the interim military council’s objection to foreign funding.
“The Egyptian military want it and need it, but they also want to determine how it shall be spent. And they would rather have it spent on weapons than on irritating little NGOs that keep bleating about democracy and human rights,” Whitaker writes on the Guardian’s Comment is Free column, which he also edits.
The United States has announced a “significant portion” of the $165 million economic aid package for Egypt will go to local organizations promoting political and economic reform and expanding awareness. The European Union, meanwhile, launched a more specific support mechanism for the work of such groups in Egypt: a €22 million ($28.6 million) civil society facility under the European neighborhood and partnership instrument.
>> EU announces new aid initiatives to support democratic transition in Middle East, North Africa
It remains unclear whether there would be subsequent raids of other NGOs and human rights groups’ offices in Egypt and on when property seized by security forces in the first raid would be returned. But for international organization Human Rights Watch, one thing is certain should these raids or investigations continue: “It is going to shut down every human rights organization in Egypt.”
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