IRI's closure highlights difficulty of working in Egypt

Joseph Mayton
5 Min Read

U.S. use democracy institute as reason for cutting aid

CAIRO: On June 4, the International Republican Institute (IRI) was asked to stop all functions by the government until it had received a permit to conduct their activities in the country. The IRI has closed its office in Cairo until further notice, and have even begun to remove personnel from the country.

An intern working with the institute in Cairo has been told by the head office in Washington to pack their bags and leave the country as soon as possible.

A government spokesman on Monday said that until the group received official permission to work in the country, it must stop meddling with internal Egyptian affairs.

The controversy over the organization began when Gina London, the local head of the institute, in a recent interview with Nahdet Masr said that IRI would help to speed up political reform in the country.

London also said that IRI had not broken any laws and that the Egyptian and U.S. governments had signed agreements letting groups funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development operate without prior permission.

However, according to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), the institute can be asked to stop functioning in the country because they do not have an official permit.

“Even if they did not break any laws, if they are not registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they can be shut down, says Tariq Zaghloul of the EOHR.

“While the government can shut them down, it doesn’t look good when the U.S. is in the middle of trying to limit the amount of aid given to the country . this will look bad on Egypt, he continues.

London is due to meet the minister of foreign affairs this coming week in order to discuss the decision of the government to shut down.

In the U.S. Congress, the debate against continuing to give Egypt $1.8 billion is heating up. The IRI was mentioned on Thursday in Washington as a pivotal point why aid should be reduced, arguing that dialogue is not getting the job done.

The choice we have today is to do nothing and hope with dialogue and cajoling things will improve or we can send a clear message that Congress will not stand by as thugs beat peaceful demonstrators, Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat of New York, told reporters.

The IRI s Web site describes it as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide .

The organization was founded in 1983, following a speech by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan in which he proposed a broad objective of helping countries build the infrastructure of democracy.

The current misunderstanding amongst American politicians and rights activists is that the move by the government is another error on the long list that includes violence, and alleged torture and sexual assault at demonstrations. However, the IRI is not a registered NGO in Egypt and therefore can be asked to shut down if the government deems their activities to be harmful to their policies.

As Zaghloul says, if they don’t have a permit they can be legally asked to stop working in the country. He, however, believes that this shows the governments unwillingness to continue to implement promised reforms.

“If they start shutting down American NGO’s it is only a matter of time before they start cracking down on Egyptian organizations, he says.

With Egypt in the midst of a political struggle with Washington and much of the west, this move to block an American-based democracy institute doesn’t bode well for the country’s relationship with the U.S.

IRI was unavailable for further comment, saying that the head office in Washington had instructed them not to speak to the press until further information could be uncovered. According to IRI members in Cairo, at least one member of the local office has been instructed to leave and is flying out of the country immediately due to perceived security threats.

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