CAIRO (AP) - It was an unusually intense raid on pro-democracy groups backed by some of Egypt's closest allies, including the United States: Special commandos in full gear sealed office doors shut with wax, demanded computer passwords, carted away boxes of documents and searched the bathrooms.
Rights groups on Friday denounced the startling show of force in the raids on 10 organizations a day earlier and accused Egypt's ruling generals of trying to silence critics as the country approaches the first anniversary of the revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
Less than two weeks after the military violently crushed street protests leaving dozens killed and hundreds injured, some warned Thursday's raids were a sign of a fiercer crackdown ahead of new protests planned for Jan. 25, the anniversary of the start of the 18-day mass uprising.
The sweep was also a dramatic escalation in the military's campaign to portray the protests against its rule as a plot by "foreign hands" against Egypt.
The choice of targets was significant: The raided groups are not youth activists known for protests but ostensibly neutral groups working to promote democratic institutions, such as an independent judiciary, election monitoring and election campaign training.
Notably, three of them were American organizations funded in part by the State Department - an indication Egypt's military, which receives some $1 billion a year from Washington, was willing to strain ties with a longtime ally in going after them. Raided were the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House, which have helped to train political parties how to run campaigns and encourage political involvement of women and young people.
Military and judiciary officials said the groups were suspected of funneling foreign funds to foment protests and instability and "influence public opinion in non-peaceful ways." The groups and other rights organizations dismissed the accusations as an attempt to taint the broader revolution.
"The bottom line here is that the state unleashed its dogs in the media and in the government to tarnish our reputation so when we stand up against the military generals, we would be stripped of our credibility in front of public opinion," said Negad el-Borai, a rights advocate and a lawyer.