The NEW York Times editorial (excerpts below) is perplexed by the latest moves by SCAF. The escalation started late last year by the Egyptian security forces raiding a number of NGOs, including three-American financed "democracy building groups" with strong connections in the U.S. (including the International Republican Institute). Later this year, the Egyptian Government barred at least six Americans — including I.R.I.’s Egypt director, Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — from leaving Egypt. This comes at a time when lawmakers in Capitol Hill will soon consider a new request for aid to Egypt's military, which now runs about $1.3 billion per year.
"The generals make the specious charge that recent unrest was caused by “foreign hands.” Outside forces didn’t drive Egyptians to courageously rise up against Hosni Mubarak. And outside forces aren’t driving them to keep pressing the military to keep its promises and move fully to civilian rule. If Egyptians want outside help to make that transition, they should be allowed to accept it. I.R.I.’s president, Lorne Craner, said that in his organization’s 30-year history, it has never been treated like this by any country, including Russia, China and Venezuela."
The NGOs problems in Egypt are not as simple as the NYT describes in its one-sided editorial. Foreign funding for NGOs was always a sensitive and a controversial issue. We've seen this in democratic countries with strong NGOs legislation. The Indian government used the dreaded "acting on behalf of foreign interests" accusation in its fight with an NGO over the construction of Sardar Sarovar dam, a four billion-U.S. dollar project. The Indian government didn't stop there but proposed a new legislation to closely monitor the sources and use of foreign funds received by hundreds of NGOs in the country.
Egypt needs a balanced approach in dealing with the NGOs issue. First it needs to acknowledge the important role played by NGOs whether in operations and/or advocacy to fill existing gaps in government services. Treating all NGOs as enemies of the state is short-sighted and politically motivated.
The new parliament should pass a new NGOs law. The new law should build on international best practice while ensuring Egypt's sovereignty, coordination between NGOs activities and relevant line ministries, independence of the NGOs and their right to receive funding (foreign and local). The new NGOs law should reflect the spirit of a post-Mubarak Egypt that, we hope, is less authoritarian, rigid and closeted.