Egypt Independent

Egypt minister: No crisis with US over civil society organizations

There is no crisis between Egypt and the United States over the issues of human rights and civil society organizations, said Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abouelnaga on Tuesday.

Tension between the two countries has escalated after a number of American NGO workers were referred to criminal court in investigations against illegal NGO funding.

The organizations have been accused of receiving foreign funding and operating without licenses, among other charges.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday warned Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr that the United States is reviewing aid to Egypt — US$1.3 billion last year — over the recent crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

In a press statement following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Abouelnaga said the relationship between Egypt and the US was an important and strategic one.

She went on to say that the two countries need to be in alliance with each other, and the relationship between Egypt and the US cannot be reduced to one issue.

Earlier on Tuesday, Abouelnaga revealed before the parliamentary committee on human rights that civil society organizations not registered with the Egyptian government have received US$175 million between March and June 2011. These organizations are not officially registered with the US administration, she added.

Other financial transfers from Arab governments and bodies have been recorded, Abouelnaga said.

The Egyptian government is not against the work of NGOs abiding by the law, she said, adding that Egypt houses 23,000 civil society organizations. Abouelnaga met with the parliamentary committee to discuss suggestions from some NGOs that laws on civil society organizations be amended.

“During 2011, 4,500 NGOs, including 80 foreign ones, 23 among them are American, have been registered and settled their legal situation with the Egyptian government,” she said.

Abouelnaga said the ministry is not concerned with the legal situation of the NGOs as much as the issue of foreign financing.  

“A financial aid agreement was previously agreed upon by the US and Egypt, but the administration of George W. Bush took made a one-sided decision in 2004 that a portion of the aid the US promised to Egypt will be directed to human rights programs and the support of the democracy. This change was made without the consent of the Egyptian government, which considers it a blatant violation of the original agreement.”

Egypt and the US negotiated an aid agreement following the Camp David Accords in 1979.

Abouelnaga said that she will not insist on prior consent regarding the funding, so long as the organizations receiving aid settle their legal situation and that the funding not exceed US$20 million per year.

“While Egypt is more flexible than many other countries concerning foreign finance, the American side did not commit to the agreement, as it financed non-registered organizations and private firms.”

What is taking place in Egypt is in the interest of protecting national security and sovereignty, Abouelnaga said, stressing that the US has funding restrictions in place for organizations operating on its soil.