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Egypt Denies 8 US NGOs Permission to Operate in Country

Former US president Jimmy Carter gives a press conference in Cairo, 13 January 2012
Former US president Jimmy Carter gives a press conference in Cairo, 13 January 2012

Egypt has rejected applications by eight American nongovernmental organizations to operate in the country, including an election-monitoring group led by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

Egyptian state news agency MENA said Monday the country's Social Affairs Ministry denied licenses to the American civil society organizations because their activities violate Egyptian sovereignty. The news agency says the eight blacklisted groups include the Carter Center, Coptic Orphans and Seeds of Peace. The names of the other five organizations could not be confirmed.

The Carter Center observes elections around the world to try to ensure they are free and fair. Egypt's ruling military council allowed the group to monitor a phased parliamentary election that ran from last November to February, but it is not clear if such permission will be granted for next month's presidential election.

Local and foreign civil society groups have long accused the Egyptian government of being slow to process their permit applications and forcing them to work in legal limbo.

Coptic Orphans executive director Nermien Riad criticized Egypt's denial of her group's request for a license by saying she "does not understand" how working with orphaned Egyptian children conflicts with national sovereignty. In an Internet statement, she said Coptic Orphans has not yet received formal notification of the denied license application but will challenge the move in court.

Riad also said Coptic Orphans will continue to fulfill its commitment to Egyptian children by sending village volunteers to visit orphaned families, renovate homes and provide tutoring.

Egyptian authorities raided the offices of several American pro-democracy groups and other NGOs last year, and filed criminal charges against 16 American activists on suspicion of using illegally obtained funds to undermine Egypt's stability.

The crackdown triggered a major diplomatic dispute between the two allies, with Washington threatening to withdraw $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Cairo for imposing a travel ban on the American activists. An Egyptian judge lifted the ban last month, allowing the Americans to leave the country and avoid possible imprisonment.