Egypt’s caretaker government on Monday denied licenses to eight U.S.-based civil society groups, effectively suspending their work here, on grounds that their activism posed a threat to national sovereignty.
Among the organizations banned was the Carter Center, which former President Jimmy Carter founded and which is known internationally for its work gauging the legitimacy of elections. The ruling came exactly one month before Egypt’s first presidential election since the toppling last year of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The decision appears to be an extension of the government’s controversial campaign against nongovernmental organizations that are accused of illegally receiving foreign funding and fomenting unrest. The crackdown, which included raiding offices and putting American and Egyptian workers to a show trial, so outraged Washington that lawmakers sought to end the annual $1.3 billion U.S. aid package to its once-close ally.
That crisis blew over when Egypt lifted a travel ban on American and other foreign defendants in the case, allowing them to flee the country after paying steep penalties. In the latest move, however, more NGOs will have to halt their projects after the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs found that their work “contradicts state sovereignty,” according to a report by the state news agency MENA that cited an unnamed senior official.
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Other than the Carter Center, the NGOs denied licenses were difficult to discern from the Arabic renderings of their names, which were given as the American Security Institute, Seeds of Peace, International Education Association, Latter-day Saints Association, Coptic Orphans and two groups whose names as rendered couldn’t easily be identified. The state media report said authorities’ concerns were about not only the groups’ “slogans and activities,” but also their mechanisms for reaching Egyptians.
“The official warned that in case such NGOs operate without receiving the needed permits, they will fall within reach of Egyptian law,” the MENA report said.
The two most prominent groups in the earlier NGO flap _ the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, both of which are funded in part by the U.S. government _ weren’t included in the report.
Sanne van den Bergh, the Egypt field office director of the Carter Center, told the BBC that the group hadn’t been formally notified of the government’s decision.
Many of the suspended groups appeared to be Christian-focused, perhaps raising government suspicions of missionary activity in overwhelmingly Muslim Egypt.
Coptic Orphans focuses on helping impoverished children “access their basic rights through a church-based network of local volunteer advocates and mentors,” according to its website. Its programs include the Valuable Girl Project, which aims to build self-esteem in at-risk girls, and Serve to Learn, which sends international volunteers to Egypt for summer stints.
All those projects presumably are halted now, said Ihab Aziz, the president of the Coptic American Friendship Association, an umbrella group that lobbies for the rights of Egypt’s ancient Coptic Christian minority.
“It’s definitely troubling news for us. It will probably be a showstopper for quite some time for American organizations that want to come here,” Aziz said. “Once we have a stable government and a full Cabinet, maybe things will go the right way, but not anytime soon.”
McClatchy special correspondent Mohannad Sabry contributed to this report.