NGO Crackdown in Egypt German Think Tank Chief to Be Questioned in Cairo
The head of a major German political think tank's Cairo office has been snared in the Egyptian government's crackdown on local and foreign non-governmental organizations operating in the country. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation and other institutions remained closed in the capital on Monday.
Despite massive criticism from abroad, Egyptian authorities continue to defend raids conducted last week at the offices of several foreign organizations operating in the country. Among the offices subsequently shut down was the Cairo bureau of Germany's Konrad Adenauer Institute, a think tank named after the former German leader that is aligned with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
Andreas Jacobs, who heads the local office of the institute, is expected to be ordered to appear before the public prosecutor in the coming days, Hans-Gert Pöttering, the head of the Konrad Adenauer Institute in Berlin, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper. In addition to the institute, the offices of 16 other non-government and pro-democracy organizations, including human rights groups, have been forcefully closed by Egyptian officials in recent days.
Pöttering told the newspaper that prosecutors' claims against the organization were baseless. "I call on the Egyptian authorities not to further hinder our valuable work in promoting democratic structures," the former European Parliament president said. "The computers and documents that have been seized must also be returned without delay, as the (ruling Egyptian) military council has also suggested," he added. Pöttering noted that the Konrad Adenauer Foundation has been working for more than 30 years in Egypt and that it has always operated according to democratic principles. The foundation's leader said that Cairo office chief Jacobs had not been provided with any documentation to justify the allegations.
Egypt Claims Offices Opened Illegally
The raids on Thursday sparked criticism around the world. Germany's foreign ministry called them "unacceptable" and summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Berlin. But the Egyptian transitional government defended its actions over the weekend. Since the insurgency began at the beginning of last year, foreign organizations have "opened offices in an illegal manner in Egypt and violated the law by doing so," Egypt's international cooperation minister, Faiza Aboul Naga, said at a press conference in Cairo on Sunday. Egyptian law prohibits the financing of politically active foreign non-governmental organizations, she added to justify the actions, noting that Washington has a similar rule.
Speaking next to his fellow cabinet member, Egyptian Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid said Egypt had an interest in ensuring that the organizations conduct their work "without being influenced" from the outside. He added they must be "free and independent, but that they must also operate within the framework of the Egyptian constitution." Representatives of the Egyptian democracy movement have accused the military council of seeking to intimidate foreign organizations.
Egyptian officials have conversely alleged that foreign organizations have played a role in recent violent protests that threatened to disrupt elections in the country. It's an accusation that all of the organizations have firmly denied.
However, countries including Germany are investing significantly in a democratic future for Egypt and other countries whose governments have been toppled over the course of the Arab Spring.
In Germany, the federal government has provided additional funding to a handful of its political think tanks that are aligned with major parties to promote the creation of democratic structures in Egypt and other countries. The German Development Ministry has made 5 millionavailable for a democracy fund, 8 million for an employment-generating fund and 23 million for an economic fund. In addition, the German Foreign Ministry is committing 50 million in funding per year through 2013.
In the face of continuing demands to expedite the democratic process in Egypt, the country's ruling military council recently announced a shortening of parliamentary elections. Elections for the second chamber, the Shura Council, will take place in two instead of three phases, with the final run-off scheduled for Feb. 22 rather than the originally planned March 11, Egyptian news agency Mena reported. In addition, the Shura will convene for its first session almost a month earlier than previously planned. Under the new plan, both chambers of parliament will begin working sooner to develop a new constitution for the country.
The election for the lower house of parliament has been ongoing since November. The third and final phase of the vote begins on Tuesday and will end on Jan. 17. Under the military council's plan for handing over power, both chambers will select members from among their ranks to form a constitutional commission right after the election. Most political parties are pursuing the goal of working out a new constitution prior to a presidential election that is envisioned for June.
dsl -- with wires