Friday, December 30, 2011

Egypt: NGO Raids, Police, and Office Equipment

I'm still cautiously optimistic about "Arab spring."

What we've seen so far is more about upsetting the apple cart, than building new and better governments. Durable autocracies in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, are gone. Syria's boss got dropped from the Arab League. Bahrain's king may be learning that killing his subjects isn't a good idea.

That's cautiously optimistic.

Years, Decades, Generations

There's a chance that at least some of the countries where folks ousted an autocrat will have trouble for years. Maybe decades. Some may even elect a home-grown equivalent of Iran's ayatollahs.

But I think that enough folks in places like Egypt and Libya have gotten a taste of freedom: and liked it. They've also learned how to use the Internet and other Information Age technologies and social structures: and are catching up on what's happened in the last few thousand years. Particularly since the 18th century.

In the long run, generations from now, I think there's a good chance that folks in the Middle East will develop governments that serve the citizens: not just the local gentry.

Meanwhile, it's rough going.

'Because We Can?'

Egypt's old-school autocrat, Mubarak, is out. Right now, Egypt has a military government. That, by itself, isn't bad news: not in my opinion, anyway.

Raids on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): that's bad news.1

At least two of the NGOs have been observing Egypt's elections. They "...may have received illegal foreign funding and have been operating without licenses from the Foreign Ministry and local ministries...." (CNN) 'Obviously' they're foreign spies?!

Actually, it's anyone's guess why Egyptian police took stuff from these outfits.

Maybe it's just because they have the power to do so: and like to flex their muscles. Or maybe not.

'Commies,' 'Hate Speech,' and Stolen Office Equipment

An op-ed in the United Kingdom2 said that it's probably because Egypt's current bosses don't like it when folks act on their own volition. He may be right about that.

I remember the 'good old days,' when 'regular Americans' had conniptions when commies and pinkos disagreed with them. More recently, defenders of 'tolerance' have labeled opposing views as "hate speech." Tomayto, tomahto.

A partial list of what got stolen confiscated may suggest another motive:
"...Police took laptops, desktops, video conferencing equipment, cell phones and other electronics, Hughes said. They also took between 15 and 20 boxes of documents...."
Here in America, that's several thousand dollars' worth of merchandise. I don't have too much trouble imaging that an enterprising, and ethically-challenged, enforcer might decide to supplement his income with a little informal taxation.

However, I think the UK op-ed author has a very plausible explanation. I think I can understand why Egypt's current bosses want to control what others say, and how they say it. But that doesn't mean I think it's a good idea.

Related posts:

1 News and views:
"NGOs puzzled by Egyptian raids"
CNN (December 30, 2011)

"A day after Egyptian police raided the offices of 10 nongovernmental organizations across the country, the groups remained in the dark about what the authorities were looking for.

" 'We asked them if there was something specific we could help them find,' Julie Hughes, Egypt country director for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), told CNN Friday. 'They refused to answer.'

"Two other U.S.-based agencies, Freedom House and the International Republican Institute (IRI), were also raided.

"Police took laptops, desktops, video conferencing equipment, cell phones and other electronics, Hughes said. They also took between 15 and 20 boxes of documents.

"The actions were part of an investigation into allegations that groups may have received illegal foreign funding and have been operating without licenses from the Foreign Ministry and local ministries, according to Adel Saeed, spokesman for the general prosecutor's office...."

"Egypt rights groups blast raids on NGO offices"
AP, via CBS News (December 30, 2011)

"Several Egyptian rights groups on Friday accused the country's ruling military council of using 'repressive tools' of the deposed regime in waging an 'unprecedented campaign' against pro-democracy organizations.

"The groups' joint statement came just hours after security forces stormed offices of 10 rights organizations, including several based in the United States. The Interior Ministry said the raids were part of the investigation into foreign funding of rights groups.

"The military, which took over control after a popular uprising toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February, has often accused the groups of promoting protests with the help of funds from abroad...."
2 Op-ed about Egypt's police raids:
"Egypt's raids on NGOs are about control"
Brian Whitaker, (December 30, 2011)
"Restricting NGO funding is typical of authoritarian regimes happy to take foreign aid but less happy about human rights

"Imagine you live in Saudi Arabia and want to start a discussion group with some friends. The only way to do it legally is to ask the king's permission.

"Musa al-Qarni dutifully wrote a letter to the king but never got a reply – so he went ahead anyway. A few months later, Qarni was arrested and carted off to jail after secret police commandos stormed the villa in Jeddah where he and several men 'widely known for their advocacy on issues of social and political reform' were meeting.

"In most Arab states any sort of civil society organisation, even something as innocent as a youth group or stamp-collecting club, has to be registered with the authorities, and if the authorities don't like the sound of it they may refuse or simply ignore the request, leaving the applicants in a legal limbo.

"In Bahrain and Oman they can refuse permission on the grounds that the organisation is unnecessary or, in Oman's case, 'for any other reasons' decided upon by the ministry of social affairs. In Qatar, if a society wants to admit non-Qatari members it must ask the prime minister first...."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.