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Seventeen pro-democracy and human rights NGOs were targeted as part of a widespread investigation by the Egyptian military.
Several US-based NGOs were raided by Egyptian forces in Cairo on Thursday, sparking concern that American-Egyptian relations are plummeting to new lows.
Seventeen pro-democracy and human rights groups, including the prominent US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), were searched by armed officials, the Guardian reported.
The Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung, which supports political dialogue, Freedom House, and the Egyptian Public Budget Observatory were also among the organizations that were raided, activists told The Guardian.
The searches were done as part of an investigation of foreign funding to Egyptian organizations, and were based on evidence that the organizations had violated Egyptian laws, such as not having the correct permits, Reuters reported. The organizations' staff members were kept in their offices during the raids, and forbidden from making phone calls. Some laptops and documents were confiscated by the prosecutors, according to NGO staff.
"We are deeply concerned," a State Department official said. "We call on the Egyptian government to resolve this issue immediately and to end harassment of NGO staff as well as return all property."
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The National Democratic Institute has been training new Egyptian political parties in how to participate in elections. "This has been done with the full knowledge of authorities and was not clandestine," a leading member of a liberal party told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The coordinated raids are likely to be interpreted as provocative in Washington, which underwrites $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt a year.
The non-governmental organizations immediately condemned the raids.
"Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt's historic transition sends a disturbing signal," NDI president Kenneth Wollack said.
"This is part of a wider crackdown on civil society groups in Egypt using Mubarak-era laws," Heba Morayef, who works with Human Rights Watch in Egypt, told The Guardian. "They are using these pre-revolution laws as a broad brush investigation that could result in wholesale shutting down of human rights and other groups that have been at the forefront of criticism of the army. This is very selective and really, really serious. It has huge potential implications for human rights in Egypt."
The Egyptian army, which stepped in to control the region when Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, has pledged to step aside by mid-2012.