'Case 173': Egypt closes decade-old NGO foreign funding case

Ruling by Cairo Appeals Court lifts asset freezes and staff travel bans on 20 organisations.

An appeals court in Egypt has ordered the closing of a long-running investigation into 20 NGOs accused of illegally receiving foreign funds.

“The designated Cairo Appeals court judge Ali Mokhtar issued an order that no criminal case may be opened into [the] 20 organisations … and that investigations have concluded,” the Cairo Appeals Court said in a statement on Saturday.

Known locally as “Case 173”, the controversial judicial process dates back to shortly after the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Authorities in December 2011 raided the headquarters of multiple NGOs including US-based Freedom House, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. Their offices were ordered to close.

Egyptian state media accused them of involvement in a foreign plot to destabilise the country, in a case that strained ties between Cairo and Washington, which supplies $1.3bn in annual military aid to Egypt.

The raids led to charges against 43 defendants, including Egyptians and other Arab citizens, as well as citizens of the United States and European countries.

Many, such as Sam Lahood – son of Ray Lahood who served as US transportation secretary under former US President Barack Obama – had left Egypt but were tried in absentia.

In 2013, they were all sentenced to jail terms ranging from one to five years on charges including operating NGOs without the necessary approval.

In 2016, a court also froze the Egypt-based assets of several of the organisations and imposed travel bans on their staff, as well as opening investigations into new organisations and individuals.

In December 2018, the original 43 defendants were acquitted, but the asset freezes and travel bans remained in place.

A judicial source confirmed to the AFP news agency that Saturday’s ruling effectively closes the original case.

The ruling lifts asset freezes and staff travel bans on 20 organisations, which include children’s charity Coptic Orphans and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, according to the court statement.

The status of the new groups targeted in 2016 was not clear.

Egypt has stepped up its crackdown against civil society since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power after leading the 2013 military overthrow of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi.

Before el-Sisi’s three-day visit to France this month, more than a dozen human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, urged French President in a joint statement to end his “unconditional support for the Egyptian government”.

On Thursday, three staff from the Egyptian Initiative of Personal Rights, a leading human rights group, were released from jail following a concerted international campaign calling for their release.

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