Egyptian Military Raids Foreign-Funded NGO Offices

The State Department is calling on Egyptian authorities to stop the harassment of non-governmental organizations. Egyptian security forces earlier raided the offices of 17 NGOs. The military claims some of them were operating without permits.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Egyptian security forces stormed the offices of 17 non-governmental organizations yesterday, including several American-based groups. Two of those, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, have been monitoring elections at the invitation of the Egyptian government. A third U.S.-based group, Freedom House, earlier this week, applied for official recognition.

American officials expressed deep concern over the incident and have demanded immediate action. Here's State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

VICTORIA NULAND: Well, suffice it to say we don't think this action is justified and we want to see the harassment end, and we want to see the property returned.

WERTHEIMER: State-run news outlets in Egypt say the raids targeted groups that were operating without proper permits or otherwise violating Egyptian law.

To learn more about this crackdown, we go to Cairo and to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

Soraya, good morning.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Soraya, can you tell us about who seemed to be the main target of those raids and if there's any significance to the timing?

NELSON: Well, most of these groups are groups that are receiving foreign aid, specifically from the United States, for their activities. We have pro-democracy groups, we have advocacy groups looking into human rights and that sort of thing. And it's clear that these are the groups that the military rulers are very concerned about, creating what they see as chaos here in the country, at the moment.

And the timing is significant. Next week we have the beginning of the end, if you will, for the parliamentary elections in the lower House. And on the 25th of January, of course, is the first year anniversary of the Egyptian uprising against Mubarak. And so, it's clear they're trying to send a very strong message.

WERTHEIMER: By specifically targeting American-funded non-governmental organizations, are the generals trying to say something to Washington?

NELSON: Yes. Certainly the military has been trying to send a very strong message. Relationships have been very tense between the U.S. and Egypt, as of late. And the military rulers are particularly angry with comments that have been made, for example, by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week, referring to the crackdown on protesters, specifically women.

In particular one incident of course which was a woman who was wearing Muslim headwear and/or a hijab. And she was basically stripped down to her bra and severely beaten and dragged across Tahrir Square.

These sorts of messages are not sitting well with U.S. officials. And certainly, the military rulers feel that there's interference when their benefactor, the U.S., makes this kind of complaint.

WERTHEIMER: And how are Egyptians reacting to this?

NELSON: Certainly the various groups, non-governmental groups - even those that were not raided - are very concerned about this. They say that this sort of activity didn't even occur when Hosni Mubarak was president. While very few of these independent groups actually have licenses to operate here, they were sort of allowed to do so during the Mubarak era, for the most part. But at this stage, the fact that they will be targeted in this way makes them wonder whether they'll even be able to continue to operate.

WERTHEIMER: And so, what sort of saying do you think the Egyptian people would take away from an action like this?

NELSON: Many of them here do believe that America is trying to cause trouble here. I mean not everybody agrees with the pro-democracy actions that are continuing or the protests, certainly, that are continuing. They do want to see democratic change. But they also feel that the military rulers need to be given a chance. And they certainly don't want outside interference, and that's certainly the drum that the military rulers and the civilian government they've appointed has been beating.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cairo correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome, Linda.

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