Chicago Tribune: Crackdown on NGOs in Egypt is a Shocking Assault Even by the Standards of Police States

January 31, 2012

Outrage in Egypt
Chicago Tribune

Editorial

The Egyptian military was very comfortable with the dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country for 30 years before being forced out by mass protests last year. And though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has assumed responsibility for managing the transition to democracy, it is having trouble changing its ways.

Egyptians are getting impatient with the slow pace of the transition, which seems designed to keep the military in the catbird seat. Last week saw huge anti-government rallies demanding that the generals hand over power right away.

In recent weeks, the government has responded by going after international non-governmental organizations that advocate for human rights and popular rule. In December, security agents invaded the offices of several groups, seizing computers, papers, cellphones and money.

Among the targets were three organizations that get funding from the U.S. government — the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House. When the rulers try to blame the massive recent pro-democracy protests on "foreign hands," they apparently have these NGOs in mind.

It was a shocking assault even by the standards of police states. Charles Dunne, director of Middle East and North African affairs for Freedom House, says he doesn't recall anything comparable happening in any of the countries where it operates.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Egyptian government has barred several Americans who work for either the IRI or the NDI, including Sam LaHood, son of transportation secretary Ray LaHood, from leaving the country.

The younger LaHood says the charge that IRI has been fomenting unrest is "patently false." But his lawyer has warned him that he and others may be prosecuted. Some of those under threat, including LaHood, have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy.

If the regime persists in this thuggery, it can expect to pay a heavy price. Egypt gets $1.3 billion a year in aid from Washington — and the law requires Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to certify that Egypt is making progress toward democracy and human rights before releasing this year's funds.

The State Department has made it clear that Egypt can't expect to keep getting financial assistance if it behaves in this way. In that, Congress will most likely agree. "If the administration follows the law, there's no way they can continue the aid," Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a member of the Appropriations Committee, told The Washington Post.

If the Egyptian government has any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of these groups, it has an obligation to make it public now — that, or stop its harassment. In the meantime, the administration should let the military council know it can trample on human rights and abuse American citizens or continue getting U.S aid. But it can't do both.