Tarek Mahmoud, lawyer and Secretary General of the Tahya Masr Fund, has accused leading Egyptian rights organisations of trying to destabilise the state during a meeting between NGOs and a US Congress delegation.
Mahmoud said that the six NGOs who met a delegation from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs presented “false statements and documents that fabricated the situation of human rights in Egypt”.
In the statement from the fund set up by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Mahmoud went on that the NGOs discussed “increased” funding to the organisations and how to divert funds away from state bodies, as a way to “to bring down the state institutions”. He added that “most of these organisations receive funds illegally from abroad and that such meetings open the door to foreign interference in the internal affairs of Egypt”.
Hosted at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) office, the delegation also met representatives from organisations including the Egyptian Democratic Academy, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
However, the CIHRS Director gave a different account of the events. Mohamed Zare’a said: “A delegation from the United States came here as is normal. We discussed the human rights situation in Egypt and the new wave of restrictions on civil society and its defenders, such as travel bans placed on activists. We had a discussion on political detainees, the protest law and restrictions on freedom of assembly.”
“We also discussed the case of Azza Soliman and the other witnesses to Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh’s death where the witnesses have become defendants,” Zare’a said. He was referring to the trial of 17 witnesses over the death of demonstrator Al-Sabbagh who are now been prosecuted. The case, which resumes Saturday, has been called by some a retaliation against the witnesses who hold that the police are responsible for Al-Sabbagh’s death.
In December, CIHRS decided to move its headquarters to Tunisia in response to what it called a “war on civil society” in Egypt, and the “ongoing threats to human rights organisations”.
On Monday, CIHRS, alongside 19 other prominent rights organisations, issued a joint statement condemning the “aggressive actions by the Egyptian government against civil society, which seek the eradication of NGOs”. The statement came in response to the government’s continued targeting of organisations that receive foreign funding.
Tarek Mahmoud has previously used his position to target bodies seen as part of the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. In January, the Tahya Misr Fund launched a lawsuit to have the 6 April Movement officially designated “terrorist”. Mahmoud holds that the movement, which was a key force behind the January 2011 uprising, seeks to overthrow state and military institutions, as well as having cooperated with foreign intelligence.
However, in March when Al-Sisi met a similar delegation from US Congress, Mahmoud praised the president’s role, highlighting the opportunity for the present to tackle negative impressions of Egypt and secure further support in the “war on terrorism”.