Egypt forces storm offices of pro-democracy groups

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian security forces stormed the offices of 10 human rights and pro-democracy groups on Thursday, including several based in the U.S., accused by the country’s military rulers of destabilizing security by fomenting protests with the help of foreign funding.

The raids on 17 offices throughout Egypt are part of the ruling generals’ attempt to blame “foreign hands” for the unrest that continues to roil Egypt since the 18-day revolt that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in February, but that activists say failed to topple his regime.

Among the offices ransacked were the U.S.-headquartered National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and the International Republican Institute, which is observing Egypt’s staggered parliamentary elections.

The Obama administration demanded Egyptian authorities immediately halt the raids on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), saying they are “inconsistent” with long-standing U.S-Egypt cooperation.

The U.S. State Department called on the Egyptian government “to immediately end the harassment of NGO staff, return all property and resolve this issue.” Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. ambassador to Egypt and the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East have spoken to Egyptian officials about the situation and “made very clear that this issue needs immediate attention.”

The raids on the NGOs were the first since Mubarak’s ouster, though Egyptian officials have been levying accusations for months that the civil society groups are serving a foreign agenda. Most recently this month, Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid accused around 300 nonprofit groups of receiving unauthorized foreign funding and using the money for protests.

The Interior Ministry said the raids on 10 nonprofit organizations were part of the investigation into foreign funding of rights groups.

By far the largest recipient of foreign funding in Egypt is the military itself, which has for more than 30 years received about $1.3 billion in annual U.S. security assistance.

Freedom House said its staff were held incommunicado during the raids and that cell phones, laptops, funds and documents found during the interrogations were confiscated. The group said in a statement the raids came just three days after it formally submitted papers to register its offices in accordance with Egyptian law.

Troops and police sealed the doors of the civil society groups and banned anyone from entering or speaking with employees as they were interrogated.

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