CAIRO: Two cabinet ministers denied Sunday that the ruling military council or the police were privy to details about Thursday’s inspection campaign targeting 10 local and international NGOs, including the offices of three US-funded groups promoting democracy.
Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga, in a joint press conference with Minister of Justice Adel Abdel Hamid, said that the inspection was part of an investigation into illegal foreign funding.
"There were no military or police forces participating in the inspection,” she said. “The investigative judge asked the interior minister to secure the inspection mission without knowing the nature of the mission.”
Special army forces along with police officers and prosecutors had raided among others, the offices of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Freedom House, all Washington-based organizations, as well as the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The Pentagon announced that US Secretary of Defense expressed in a telephone conversation with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Washington’s concern regarding the targeting of the organizations.
"The Secretary also conveyed his appreciation for Field Marshal Tantawi’s prompt decision to halt the raids, and to take steps that will make it easier for NGOs to operate in Egypt," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.
The raid on the civil society organizations also triggered threats to halt US military aid to Egypt.
A statement issued by the office of Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont, demonstrated that SCAF risks losing its annual $1.5 billion in aid.
The "Leahy legislation"offers Egypt $250 million in economic aid, and provides authority to forgive up to $500 million in Egypt’s debt to the United States. It also provides $1.5 billion in military aid, but the secretary of state must certify first that Egypt’s current military leaders back the transition to civilian government.
According to the legislation, the US foreign minister should first ascertain that the current military rulers of Egypt supported power transition to civilian rule.
Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the US State Department, warned that the military aid could be withheld if "Cairo’s leaders do not respond appropriately", according to the Washington Post.
At the press conference, however, Aboul Naga said that "the local and international reactions were based on false information. What happened was not a raid or a storming of the organizations but merely legal action that preserves Egypt’s sovereignty.”
She added that she and Egypt’s foreign minister had met with the US ambassador to Egypt to explain the situation.
"She [US ambassador] promised that the US organizations will apply to work legally in Egypt and we promised her to look into their application," she said.
In the meantime, some of the raided Egyptian NGOs decided to take legal action against the sudden inspection and confiscation campaign which they described as "repressive measures" against them.
"We filed a complaint to the general prosecutor against the officials. We also decided to escalate the issue before local and regional judicial bodies like the African Court for Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner," said Helmy El-Rawy, head of the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory (BHRO).
Some organizations decided in a meeting Saturday at the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) to form three committees to take the legal measures in response to the raid: a legal committee to initiate legal cases against the storming of the headquarters; a committee to coordinate with local and international organizations and a media committee.
On Sunday, a number of the NGOs subjected to inspection had resumed their activities, while others said that it was practically almost impossible to do so.
"We will resume our work until they withdraw their accusations or put us in jail," Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said pointing out that the network resumed its activities at its office.
Meanwhile, Nasser Amin, head of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal profession (ACIJ), said that he resumed the activities of the center from “across the street” since he refused to reopen the center’s headquarters Sunday after the red wax seal was removed.
He was protesting against the illegal manner by which the public prosecutor inspected the center.
"We will only reopen the headquarters legally with a formal inventory of all the contents and documents seized by the inspectors in the raid," he said.
The legal activist said he feared that the prosecution would plant documents when they return the seized items to prove their case.
Responding to a journalist’s question about this, Minister of Justice Adel Abdel Hamid said that "the inspection was performed by members of the general prosecution who listed each document they seized in the inspection minutes.”