CAIRO: Refuting accusations by the Egyptian government, US NGOs Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute told Daily News Egypt they had applied for proper licensing from the country’s foreign ministry and were awaiting responses.
"We have been working without a license, but at the same time we did not have an office or a location," said a Freedom House employee, who wished to remain anonymous.
"However, after January 25, we attempted to apply for a license at the foreign ministry and they actually asked us to open up an office and file the proper paperwork in order to do so."
He stressed that the organization was told that they must open the office before they could apply for a license.
"We followed the procedure, opened an office and filed the proper documents with the foreign ministry; they replied with an official letter stating that they received our paperwork and they would respond to our request within 60 days," he added.
The organization received this letter just one day before their office was raided by police officers last Thursday.
Responding to allegations that Freedom House has received and disseminated funds illegally, the source said that the organization does not even have a local bank account.
“All financial transactions are coordinated with the Washington office, we simply review the procedures here, we do not deal with any funds as the government has alleged," the Freedom House employee said.
Two ministers insisted on Sunday that the state acted “within the law” as part of an investigation on alleged illegal funding of select local and foreign human rights organizations.
Fayza Aboul Naga, Egypt’s minister of international cooperation and planning pointed out at a press conference Sunday, that after the January 25 uprising many of the organizations under inspection "suddenly" began to open up offices all over Cairo "behind the government’s back."
“Our ministry is responsible for monitoring such cases," she said. “The organizations in question are not operating within the permitted fields and some are operating without the proper licensing from the foreign ministry.”
Julia Hughes, country director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), told Daily News Egypt that their organization had applied for a license back in November 2005 and were still awaiting approval from Egypt’s foreign ministry.
According to Article 6 of the NGOs Law 84 of 2002, the ministry is under obligation to enter a summary statement of the association’s statute into the relevant register within sixty days from the date of submission by the application by the founders. “Should sixty days elapse without being made registration shall be deemed effective under the law.”
Yet Aboul Naga said that the investigation involving these “select” organizations was brought to the Cairo Court of Appeals’ attention by her ministry because they are operating without the proper permits and are allegedly receiving aid without approval, knowledge or oversight from the state.
After the January uprising, which ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces accused pro-democracy protesters, including the April 6 Youth Movement widely credited for spearheading the protests, of illegally acquiring foreign funds in a bid to “destroy” Egypt.
In response to allegations that SCAF may have been behind the investigations, Aboul Naga stressed that last week’s raid did not involve any members of the armed forces “whatsoever” and that the police was simply asked to secure the inspection and the area surrounding the offices.
“This was not a move to destroy human rights organizations as some have portrayed it to be,” Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid told a group of journalists at the press conference.
“Egypt is careful to provide support to facilitate the work of human rights organizations, both foreign and local,” he added. “But after January 25, Egypt has vowed to be a country that fully complies with a fair and just legal system.”
She added that the organizations under question have political affiliations and are receiving funding from other nations and global institutions. This, under Egyptian law, is illegal, Aboul Naga stressed.
According to Law 84 NGOs need approval from the Ministry of Social Solidarity before receiving foreign funds.
Article 11 of that law bans NGOs from pursuing activities that “threaten national unity, violate public order or morality” or “practice any political or trade union activity exclusively restricted to political parties and trade unions.”
Rights activist have consistently criticized these vague stipulations, accusing the governments to abusing them to stifle dissent.
Abdel Hamid reiterated that the state has the power to block funding and employees of the organizations could face imprisonment and a fine if found guilty of operating and accepting funds illegally.
“We have more than 35,000 non-profit organizations which work in social development, women’s rights, and other initiatives, and we commend them because they are able to provide assistance to communities that the government is unable to reach,” said Aboul Naga.
Both Aboul Naga and Abdel Hamid stressed that the investigations were "not an attack" on civil society organizations, as portrayed by the media.
Youssef Mohamed, manager of Initiatives and Campaigns at the Egyptian Democratic Academy told DNE that if the government will move to shut down organizations that work in development or political awareness for receiving funds or donations, then the state must provide alternative support or encourage local businesses to donate.
"If they really believe in providing support for these organizations, then they must do this," he said. "These movements are creating political and social awareness and this is a problem for the government, Fayza Aboul Naga was a minister under the Mubarak regime, she is still a minister now and apparently she thinks she is in the pre-January 25 era… such violations are no longer acceptable."
The press conference comes a day after the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations strongly condemned last week’s raid on the 17 offices of 10 pro-democracy and human rights groups in Egypt.
The raid on the civil society organizations also triggered threats to halt the US’ $1.5 billion in military aid to Egypt, said reports.
On Friday, the UN human rights body called for an end to “heavy-handed tactics.”
“The reactions to these investigations are based on void beliefs, this was not an attack or crackdown, it is an investigation and this must be made clear inside and outside Egypt,” said Aboul Naga.