Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Foundation remains closed

Attempts to re-open the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Cairo have thus far not succeeded, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

The closure of the Cairo offices of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in January attracted renewed attention this week when the German Foreign Ministry summoned Egypt’s ambassador in Berlin, Badr Abdel-Ati, for talks about the German Foundation in Cairo.

State Secretary Markus Ederer discussed with Abdel-Ati the possible re-opening of the foundation’s offices in Cairo. “We talked about the regulations on foreign foundations working in Egypt. I made it clear that the decision was one for the foundation alone,” Abdel-Ati told Al-Ahram Weekly.

After the meeting in Berlin, the Egyptian Embassy issued a statement saying that Egypt had had “nothing to do” with the foundation’s decision to close its offices in Cairo earlier this year. It said the decision was “an internal one made by the German foundation and not in response to a request from the Egyptian government”.

“The Egyptian government did not ask the foundation to leave the country. Egypt welcomes all German institutions and foundations working on its soil within a framework of mutual respect and providing that they adhere to the laws governing NGO operations in Egypt,” the embassy statement said.

Abdel-Ati said the government was keen to clarify the legal position of German organisations working in Egypt, which was why it had presented various initiatives to the German government.

“During the meeting in Berlin it was made clear to the German authorities that any foreign NGO in Egypt could work either under the 2002 law or under an agreement signed between Egypt and the foreign country where the NGO was located. These are the only two ways that can regulate the work of a foreign organisation in Egypt,” he added.

The embassy statement reiterated that Egypt was willing to clarify the legal status of the German foundation on these terms.

The German foreign office issued a statement saying that Ederer had summoned the Egyptian ambassador to express its “incomprehension” at the closure of the German foundation’s offices in Cairo.

It said that Ederer had told the ambassador that the offices of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Cairo should be re-opened. It added that the German government would continue its support for the work of German political foundations in Egypt with “appropriate measures”.

Such foundations “need to be able to do [their work] in an environment of increasing political pressure on civil society,” it said.

According to its website, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation “aims to promote the goal of making the principle of freedom valid for the dignity of all people and in all areas of society, both in Germany and abroad.”

The foundation announced in January that it was closing its offices in Egypt because of what it called “strict government restrictions”.

Wolfgang Gerhardt, chairman of the foundation, said, “Every political seminar and every conference that we organise with our Egyptian partners is misunderstood as a possible threat to the internal security of Egypt. We have no basis on which to operate.”

He said that it was for this reason that the foundation was closing its Cairo offices. 

The foundation had been represented in Cairo since the 1970s. It moved its main offices to Jordan in 2014, but kept a liaison office in Egypt until January of this year.

A number of international rights groups and NGOs have closed their offices in Egypt over the past few years because of what they say has been growing government restrictions on their operations.

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation, which has maintained close relations with numerous Egyptian civil society organisations, focusses on issues related to human rights through programmes designed for political leaders, members of political parties, and civil society groups and media workers.

In its early years, the foundation’s work focussed on assisting the development of cooperatives and the training of journalists. Supporting educational and training programmes for journalists, particularly for those working in the electronic media and television and radio, has been a cornerstone of the foundation’s work in Egypt, according to its website.

It has been a long-term partner of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), with which it has carried out training activities in Cairo and other parts of the country. 

It has also cooperated with the Ministry of Youth and Sports with the aim of promoting civic education among Egyptian youth and increasing awareness of political issues.

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