This post has been updated. See the note below for additional details
REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Egyptian security forces stormed the offices of 17 nongovernmental organizations, including three U.S.-based agencies, as part of a crackdown on foreign assistance that has drawn criticism from the West and threatened human rights and pro-democracy movements.
The raids appeared to be part of a strategy to intimidate international organizations. The country’s ruling military council has repeatedly blamed “foreign hands” for exploiting Egypt’s political and economic turmoil.
Human rights groups say the military is using the ruse of foreign intervention to stoke nationalism and deflect criticism away from its shortcomings and abuses.
Egyptian soldiers and police forces raided offices and seized computers and files across the country. Those targeted included the U.S. groups: National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House, which are funded by Congress to monitor elections and promote democracy overseas.
"The public prosecutor has searched 17 civil society organizations, local and foreign, as part of the foreign funding case," the official news agency MENA quoted a prosecutor's office as saying. "The search is based on evidence showing violations of Egyptian laws including not having permits."
The Reuters news agency quoted one person working in an office at the National Democratic Institute as saying: "Security forces who said they were from the public prosecutor are raiding our offices as we speak. They are grabbing all the papers and laptops as well."
[Updated 9:55 a.m., Dec. 29: Freedom House condemned the raids as a sign that Egypt’s government has become only more repressive since last winter's revolution overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak.
The raids were part of “an intensive campaign by the Egyptian government to dismantle civil society through a politically motivated legal campaign aimed at preventing ‘illegal foreign funding’ of civil society operations in Egypt," said Freedom House President David J. Kramer, who was a senior State Department official during the George W. Bush administration.
"It is the clearest indication yet that the [ruling] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces … has no intention of permitting the establishment of genuine democracy and is attempting to scapegoat civil society for its own abysmal failure to manage Egypt’s transition effectively,” he said.
The raid came three days after the organization filed papers to officially register, as required under Egyptian law. On Thursday, the group called for the U.S. government to reconsider the $1.3 billion in aid it provides each year to the Egyptian armed forces -- 20% of the military’s total budget.]
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been increasingly agitated by pro-democracy activists and protesters. Clashes last week between demonstrators and soldiers ended in the deaths of at least 15 people.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman. Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.
Photo: Egyptian military stand guard as officials raid a nongovernmental organization's offices in Cairo on Thursday. Credit: Mohammed Asad / Associated Press