Egypt: NGO raids hint at imminent crackdown?

It may have been a bad couple of weeks for what political scientist Vitali Silitski calls the Authoritarian International, but signs are that the world’s autocrats aren’t giving up.

Disturbing reports from Cairo suggest that security forces today raided the offices of several leading human rights and civil society groups. According to The New York Times:

Egyptian security police raided the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, where many nongovernmental organizations operate, according to witnesses in Cairo. The police ordered people at the center to lie on the floor and disabled their mobile phones, the witnesses said. Two people were being interrogated.

The regime is also harassing independent media, giving rise to concerns that it may wish to suppress media coverage of an impending crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting,” said US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley today.

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders condemned “shocking attacks on BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, Al-Arabiya and ABC News journalists by Mubarak supporters who were reportedly accompanied by plainclothes police.”

If the regime is cracking down on NGOs, it is showing a myopic approach to the emerging transition in which a robust civil society will be a vital ingredient in countering authoritarian trends and forces in any post-Mubarak regime.

As one analyst notes today, “Egyptian civil society is rich and complex and has within it a persistent liberal strain.”

Egypt’s rulers should also learn the lessons of an earlier transition with strikingly familiar features:

…a dictator who had ruled for more than two decades — holding himself out as the only guarantor of his nation’s stability and serving as Washington’s steadfast ally — tumbled from power after a brief but intense surge of protests …..

The experience of Indonesia’s democratic transition is especially instructive, writes Thomas Carothers. NGOs played a role in ending authoritarian rule, but civil society strengthening was a vital factor in consolidating the subsequent democratic transition.

Regime change in Egypt is more likely to resemble Indonesia’s transition than the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he argues:

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today is significantly different from the Islamist movement driven by Ayatollah Khomeini that ended up grabbing power in Tehran. It has renounced violence in both word and deed for decades and undergone a significant process of moderation. It lacks a charismatic leader such as Khomeini and has already confronted limits to its popular backing through its unofficial participation in parliamentary elections. The current protests in Egypt have focused on non-religious concerns and not featured Islamist slogans or objectives. The Muslim Brotherhood will certainly play an important role in post-Mubarak Egyptian politics, but Egypt is not ripe for a radical Islamist revolution.


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