November 23, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 765

In Egypt, Official Campaign against Foreign Funding of Civil Society Organizations Sparks Controversy, Crisis with U.S.

November 23, 2011 | By B. Chernitsky*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 765


A debate is raging in Egypt over foreign funding provided to civil society organizations, especially by the U.S. Egypt's interim government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which is facing criticism from many civil organizations for its management of the country's affairs, has tried to challenge the legitimacy of these organizations by criticizing their sources of funding, claiming that foreign funding constitutes interference in Egypt' s affairs and a threat to its stability.

The government press adopted the SCAF's line, as did most other civil and political forces in Egypt. In fact, there seems to be a consensus in the country against foreign funding, which has oiled the wheels of the SCAF's campaign against the civil organizations.

Egypt's Minister of Social Solidarity Gouda 'Abd Al-Khaleq announced the establishment of a committee under his chairmanship that will reassess Egypt's Associations and Foundations Law, especially the clauses on funding from abroad.[1] A report ordered by the Justice Ministry stated that the funding provided by foreign countries – Arab and other – to organizations and individuals in the past six months amounted to one billion Egyptian liras (roughly $167 million).[2] Reports have it that, as part of the investigation into foreign aid, the heads of several associations were called in for questioning,[3] and Egypt's banks were asked to submit information on the accounts of 28 Egyptian and foreign associations suspected of providing or accepting illegal foreign funding.[4] In response, 39 social organizations submitted a request to Prime Minister 'Essam Sharaf to change the Associations and Foundations Law such that social organizations would operate with transparency but independently.[5]

The issue has also caused a crisis in Egypt-U.S. relations, after Egypt claimed that aid to civil organizations contravened Egyptian law and international legal norms.[6]

The debate in the Egyptian press has focused on American aid, but there have also been reports of organizations funded by the Gulf states. For example, Deputy Justice Minister 'Omar Al-Sharif accused four associations, two of them Coptic and one of them Salafi, of receiving money from Qatar.[7] The Salafi association admitted to receiving funds from this country, as well as from the UAE and Kuwait, but stated that the sums were much lower than reported; the Coptic Evangelical Organization – one of the Coptic associations accused by Al-Sharif – denied the allegation.[8] Criticism was also heard, especially from Shi'ites and liberals, regarding Salafi figures and groups that are funded by Saudi Arabia.[9] The Saudi ambassador to Egypt denied the claim.

The SCAF's Campaign against the Civil Society Organizations

The controversy over foreign funding emerged after Anne Patterson, then U.S. ambassador-elect to Egypt, said at her nomination hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. had granted nearly $40 million to organizations in Egypt in order to strengthen democracy there, and that 600 Egyptian organizations had requested such aid.[10]

The debate intensified after the July 22, 2011 demonstration against the SCAF, which increased the tension between social groups and Egypt's new authorities. The protest erupted after a rumor spread that a demonstrator had been killed by security forces in Suez or Isma'ilia.[11] Following Patterson's statements and the demonstration, in which thousands marched on the SCAF's headquarters in Cairo, SCAF member General Hassan Al-Rawini attacked the civil society organizations, especially a group called the April 6 Youth. He said that this group was trying to destroy Egypt and had even trained for this mission in Serbia, pointing out that its symbol originated in Serbia. He added that the youth of the revolution was guilty of incitement and of instigating violent incidents in Egypt since the ouster of Mubarak. He also mentioned that this organization, and others, received funds from abroad, and added: "The American ambassador [herself] admitted... [that the U.S.] had granted $40 million [to the civil organizations]. I am not the one who said this... When I spoke to some of the associations, they said that what had been claimed in dark rooms was not true, and that the aid they received came from UN organizations." Al-Rawini also attacked the Kefaya movement, saying: "[It] is not Egyptian, because there are [organizations by the same] name in other parts of the world, for instance in North Sudan and Tunisia."[12]

SCAF member General Hassan Al-Rawini[13]

In Statement 69, posted on its Facebook page, the SCAF denied having used force against demonstrators in Suez and Isma'ilia, and accused "political movements," including the April 6 Youth, of working against the SCAF: "The SCAF believes in continuing the relationship with the mighty Egyptian people and with the youth of the revolution, [as evidenced by] the positive measures of recent days, aimed at meeting the legitimate demands of the January 25 Revolution. However, the implementation of these positive measures contravened the interests of certain political movements with private agendas, which have started to incite fitna between the people and the armed forces.

"Therefore, we hereby announce that:

"1. [The claim] that the armed forces employed violence against protestors in Isma'ilia, Suez, or any other city is untrue.

"2. The April 6 Youth has been striving to [instigate] fitna and drive a wedge between the people and the army for some time now, but it has failed thanks to the measures recently taken.

"The SCAF calls on all sectors of the people to be wary and refrain from following this dubious plan, whose aim is to undermine Egypt's stability, and to make every effort to thwart [this plan]."[14]

It should be mentioned that the April 6 Youth was among the organizers of the protests against the SCAF in late January 2011, following Mubarak's downfall,[15] in which they presented a series of demands, including to purge the judiciary of judges associated with the Mubarak regime, stop trying civilians in military courts, discharge the prosecutor general, and establish an independent judiciary system.[16] A few days ago, following an investigation lasting several months, a Justice Ministry investigative committee cleared the organization of suspicions of receiving foreign funding. In response, the April 6 Youth demanded that the SCAF apologize for making accusations against it.[17]

Demonstration in Al-'Abasiyya Square[18]

The government press joined the campaign to delegitimize the civil organizations, and endorsed the claims regarding the danger inherent in foreign funding. A group of journalists from the papers Al-Gumhouriyya, Akher Sa'a, and October submitted a complaint to the SCAF against 18 Egyptian organizations who cooperate with foreign elements and receive foreign aid in violation of Egyptian law and of international agreements and aid programs to which Egypt is party.[19]

Editorials and columnists came out against the foreign funding and its recipients. The daily Al-Ahram stated: "Foreign funding is a dangerous opening for foreign interference in Egypt, for 'parachuting' certain figures into the elections, and for promoting foreign agendas. Every Egyptian should listen to his national and public conscience, and reject every form of [foreign] funding, [remaining] committed [only] to national and legal sources of funding."[20]

Al-Gumhouriyya columnist Samira Sadeq wrote that the civil society organizations were founded specifically in order to take advantage of foreign funding, and harmed the revolution from within, as well as the Egyptian youth and the Egyptian people at large. She called to expose organizations that receive such funding, because "some [of the funds] were possibly spent on destruction and on instigating fitna, [activity] which continued even after the collapse of the [Mubarak] regime..."[21]

Civil Society Organizations: The SCAF Is Persecuting Us

A few civil movements came out against the SCAF's policy, saying that its statements against the organizations were meant to consolidate its own status. The April 6 Youth condemned the SCAF's attempts "to accuse the movement of treason and incite against it," adding, "The SCAF's statements are an attempt to put an end to the demands of the revolution instead of heeding them and meeting them immediately."[22] The movement said further that the SCAF had exploited the issue in order to harm the image of the April 6 Youth in the eyes of the public,[23] and that the SCAF's Statement 69 had exposed its plan against the movement.[24]

Gamal 'Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights, said that the SCAF and the Egyptian prosecutor general were hounding the civil organizations – especially major ones that do not receive foreign aid but which angered the authorities by protesting human rights violations and by demanding the dismissal of the prosecutor general.[25] The head of the United Group of Attorneys and Human Rights Advocates, Naggad Al-Bora'i, said that the regime disliked the activity of the civil organizations and considered it a nuisance,[26] and the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Baha Al-Din Hassan, compared the SCAF's treatment of the organizations to the Israeli government's treatment of organizations that had cooperated with the Goldstone Committee.[27]

Coptic liberal Magdi Khalil, who resides in the U.S., wrote that the SCAF's smear campaign against the organizations, and its attempt to blame Egypt's problems on foreign elements, were reminiscent of the Mubarak regime. He explained that, because protestors continued to demand the ouster of the regime, even after Mubarak's downfall, various claims were spread about a plot against the revolution, and various Egyptian and external elements were accused of treason. Anyone who directs accusations against the social movement that led the revolution, he said, is basically claiming that the revolution is "unpatriotic," and is revealing his desire to "hijack" it and harm Egyptian society, as happened during the Mubarak era.[28]

Kefaya Movement supporters protest the attempt to silence them[29]

Egyptian Society Renounces Foreign Funding

It would seem that most of Egypt's civil, political, and media elements share the SCAF's opposition to foreign funding, on the grounds that it represents foreign interests and is therefore likely to influence the revolution. Additionally, the acceptance of foreign aid was presented as a characteristic of the Mubarak regime, and as part of its capitulation to "Zionist-American" influence.

Moreover, most of the organizations accused by the SCAF of accepting foreign funding denied the allegation and even openly condemned foreign aid. The April 6 Youth and the Kefaya movement even filed a complaint with Egypt's attorney general in response to the SCAF's accusations, and challenged anyone to submit evidence of their guilt to the attorney general.[30] The Kefaya movement invited the attorney general to investigate its members and ascertain its innocence.[31] It should be noted that Kefaya already repudiated foreign aid several months ago, in June 2011, saying that it harms national security, "corrupts political life... and empties political and social activity of its democratic content." The movement hinted that, during the Mubarak era, foreign aid had created a sector of exploiters which was the main cause for the social and political problems that prompted the revolution, and which later also led the counterrevolution that "supported Zionist-American influence in Egypt."[32]

Image on Facebook page of group opposed to foreign funding: A fist – the symbol of the April 6 Movement – holding a dollar bill[33]

Egyptian liberal playwright 'Ali Salem wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the policy of aiding defenders of democracy and freedom was useless and belonged to the Cold War era. He called on organizations to rely only on Egyptian funding sources, saying that those who received foreign aid were likely to be suspected of "unpatriotic" tendencies and of promoting a foreign agenda.[34]

The Muslim Brotherhood likewise associated foreign aid with the Mubarak regime, which had "obeyed every directive of the American administration." In an announcement, the movement mentioned that, during a visit to Cairo, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson had asked Egypt to cease its investigations into the foreign aid issue, a request they called flagrant and contemptible intervention in Egypt's domestic affairs. The announcement said further that receiving American funding "is forbidden, corrupts political life, and disgraces" the recipients.[35]

October: "The Ambassador from Hell [Anne Patterson] Sets Al-Tahrir Ablaze"

October (Egypt), July 31, 2011

The Minority Position: Foreign Aid Is Legitimate

There were a few who expressed a different opinion. Hafez Abu Sa'ada, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and a member of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, expressed puzzlement at the ban on foreign aid, saying it had been a common phenomenon prior to the January 25 revolution. He said that he did not understand the reason for the prohibition, considering that the aid was transferred openly and in a supervised manner. Similar statements were made by George Ishaq, a member of the National Association for Change, which was founded by former IAEA director general and current presidential candidate Mohammed Elbaradei.[36]

Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim, head of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies, said that foreign funding was anchored in law, and called on the SCAF to expose its own foreign funds, as well as those provided to the Salafis, warning against the Salafis' hijacking the revolution.[37] Coptic activist Magdi Khalil also wrote that he failed to see the problem with foreign aid. Referring to Al-Rawini's allegations against the April 6 Youth that its members had trained in Serbia, he said that, if true, this was "a credit to the movement, because it used peaceful means to bring about a great revolution, which the whole world has praised."[38]

Aid Issue Causes Crisis in Egypt-U.S. Relations

The foreign funding issue triggered tension between Egypt and the U.S., which the Egyptian press described as a crisis of "unprecedented" proportions[39] (though the sides also stressed that their relations were "strategic").[40] The disagreement centered mainly on the procedure of transferring funds to civil society organizations, with the U.S. favoring direct contact with the organizations and Egypt demanding that all aid pass through the government.[41] One reflection of the crisis was the recall from Egypt of James Bever, director of USAID, only 10 months after his appointment. According the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Bever left after an Egyptian senior official impeded USAID's activities.[42] The U.S. administration expressed great concern over Egypt's hostility, which American officials blamed on the Egyptian authorities, while the SCAF remained silent on the issue of Egypt-U.S. relations.[43]

Director of USAID in Egypt, James Bever[44]

The daily Al-Ahram said that the U.S. had violated understandings between the two countries when it announced that, following the revolution, $150 million of the aid to Egypt would be used to support democracy there by funding associations, both registered and unregistered.[45] The daily Al-Shurouq reported that the U.S. had offered to disclose the names of the Egyptian organizations that received funding, on the condition that Egypt would not harm them.[46] Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Abu Al-Naga said that the U.S. did, in fact, submit to the Egyptian government a list of 26 organizations that had received funds in the amount of $53 million. She stressed, however, that the disclosure of their names did not justify their act of accepting foreign aid.[47] The daily Al-Misriyoun reported that, according to the agreement between the two countries, the U.S. would continue to provide aid to civil organizations, but would report all such aid to the Egyptian authorities.[48]

Egyptian Government Press Attacks U.S.

The Egyptian government press's opposition to foreign aid was also manifest in articles attacking the U.S. and questioning its motives. Mohsen Hassanin, editor of the weekly October, wrote that the hatred for the U.S. stemmed from its clear inclination in favor of Israel at the expense of the Arab countries: "The spokeswoman for the American State Department forgot, or pretended to forget, that Egyptian public opinion, and Arab public opinion in general, need no 'warming up' in order to hate the U.S., which blindly favors Israel at the expense of the legitimate Arab rights, and overlooks [Israel's] ugly crimes against the Palestinians, as well as [Israel's] intervention in the affairs of many Arab countries, including Egypt. This is enough to arouse rage and hatred among every patriot against the American administration and its agents..."[49]

Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim, former editor of the government daily Al-Gumhouriyya, questioned the motives behind the U.S. funding of Egyptian organizations. He suggested that, in return for this aid, the U.S. expected the civil organizations to oversee Egypt's next elections and then question the results, so as to generate anarchy and confusion. He said that Egypt's civil society wanted to achieve "free and independent" democracy, as opposed to what the U.S. tried to advance in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Ukraine, Georgia, and other countries, which he said "suffered from dictatorships [and] then suffered from democratic anarchy." He called on Egypt's civil organizations to renounce American aid – just as the Egyptian government had renounced aid from the IMF and the World Bank – and thus avoid falling into "the trap [the U.S. set] for Egypt's pure revolution."[50]

Demand for Equal Relations with U.S.

Al-Ahram columnist Ahmad Sayyed Ahmad claimed that U.S.-Egypt relations under Mubarak, both during the Bush and Obama administrations, had been characterized by a disregard for Egyptian public opinion and by an Egyptian obsequiousness to the U.S. As part of these relations, he said, the American administration supported Mubarak's passing of the presidency to his son, in exchange for Egypt's help in protecting U.S. interests in the region. However, in post-revolution Egypt, foreign policy would likely change and be decided by democratic institutions, with consideration for public opinion and for Egypt's national interests. The new policy would be based on equality and mutual respect. Furthermore, Egypt expected American assistance to take the form of an economic partnership leading to growth, rather than financial aid to civil organizations with specific agendas or to specific politicians who support U.S. interests.[51]

*B. Chernitsky is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 7, 2011.

[2] Referring to organizations that had received funding from abroad, deputy director of the General Federation of Civil Associations, Ihab Madhat, said that some of the organizations had received this funding legally while others had received it illegally, and that measures would be taken against the latter. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 28, 2011. In response to the report, it was stated that organizations suspected of accepting illegal aid would also be charged with receiving personal favors with intent to undermine national security. Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 1, 2011.

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 9, 2011.

[4] These included Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim's Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies, the Egyptian Democratic Institute, and the American organizations Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). According to another report, 36 associations were investigated, and bank accounts suspected of being linked to foreign funding were frozen. Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), November 14, 2011; Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 18, 2011.

[5] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), November 16, 2011.

[6] Egypt's Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 84 of 2002), prohibits civil society organizations from receiving foreign funds without the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity. See Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Kamal 'Omar stressed that only registered associations that had obtained a permit could receive foreign funding. Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 20, 2011.

[7] Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), September 23, 2011. Al-Sharif was not the only one who focused criticism on the Copts. Journalist Muhammad Gamal 'Arafa pointed out that a Coptic TV channel appeared on the list of bodies suspected of receiving foreign funding, along with the channel of the Youth of the Revolution. Al-Usbu' (Egypt), August 15, 2011.

[8] Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), September 23, 2011.

[9] In May 2011, it was reported that Shi'ites and Copts had protested in front of the Saudi embassy against the funding of the Salafis. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 11, 2011. Egyptian sociologist and human rights activist Dr. Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim, a professor at the American University in Cairo and director of the Ibn Khaldoun Center, also hinted at Saudi aid when he warned, in August 2011, that the "Wahhabi Salafis" might hijack the revolution. Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 29, 2011; Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), August 9, 2011.

[11] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 24, 2011.

[12], July 23, 2011; Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 24, 2011.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 26, 2011.

[15] On protests organized by this movement in 2008, during the Mubarak era, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 434, "Egyptian Opposition Call Again for General Strike, Civil Revolt," May 2, 2011, Egyptian Opposition Call Again for General Strike, Civil Revolt.

[16], July 12, 17, 2011.

[17] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), November 19, 2011.

[18], July 23, 2011.

[19] Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), August 17, 2011.

[20] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 14, 2011.

[21] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), August 18, 2011.

[22], July 23, 2011.

[23], July 16, 2011.

[24], August 5, 2011.

[25] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), August 14, 2011.

[26] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), August 14, 2011.

[27] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), August 14, 2011.

[28] Al-Dustour (Egypt), July 30, 2011.

[29] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 26, 2011.

[30], July 27, 2011;, July 24, 2011.

[31], July 27, 2011.

[32], June 29, 2011. In an article, the movement's general coordinator, 'Abd Al-Halim Qandil, denied Al-Rawini's claims against Kefaya and the April 6 Youth, and added that it was the Mubarak regime and the civil society organizations that supported it that had accepted foreign aid for their own personal gain. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 31, 2011.


[34] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 14, 2011.

[31], August 17, 2011.

[35], August 2, 2011.

[36] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 30, 2011.

[37] Al-Dustour (Egypt), July 30, 2011.

[38] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), August 12, 2011.

[39]Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 28, 2011.

[40] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), August 12, 2011. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 13, 2011.

[41] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 13, 2011. American aid to Egypt is currently provided both directly by the administration and by American organizations associated with it, such as USAID. According to various reports, Egyptian civil organizations also receive aid from organizations with political ties in the U.S., such as the Egyptian Democratic Institute (affiliated with the Democratic Party) and the International Republican Institute (affiliated with the Republican Party). Al-Fagr (Egypt), September 27, 2011;, August 18, 2011; Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 15, 2011; Washington Post (US), June 5, 2011.

[42] In an interview with Al-Ahram, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman expressed concern over the animosity toward the U.S. in Egypt, and disappointment at the "authorities' encouragement" of the current wave of anti-American sentiment. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland likewise voiced the administration's concern over "anti-American" statements on the issue of foreign aid, which she called "inaccurate" and "unfair" (see:, August 10, 2011). The Wall Street Journal identified the SCAF as the source of the mudslinging against the U.S. in the August 15 edition of Al-Ahram. Wall Street Journal (US), August 10, 2011; Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 15, 2011.


[44] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 8, 2011. According to a report by the U.S. State Department, "between $150 and $165 million in existing Economic Support Funds (ESF) would be reprogrammed to support, among other things, economic recovery and democracy promotion to support nascent political parties and new elections." The report noted that during Obama's administration, only a portion of American aid to Egypt went directly to independent organizations or to those without a permit from the Egyptian government, due to the Mubarak regime's opposition to such practice (see:

[45] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), August 18, 2011.

[46] According to Abu Al-Naga, 14 of the 26 organizations, which received $47.8 million in aid, were American organizations without a permit to operate within Egypt. The rest, which received $5.8 million, were unregistered Egyptian organizations. Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 24, 2011.

[47] Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), August 9, 2011. U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson told Al-Ahram that the U.S. reported the names of organizations receiving aid but that it was difficult to say precisely how much each organization received. Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 20, 2011.

[48] October (Egypt), August 14, 2011.

[49] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), July 7, 2011.

[50] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 17, 2011.

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