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Egypt

Arab Spring for German political foundations?

After an Egyptian police raid, German political foundations in Cairo are preparing to get back to normal business. But in a country with a shifting political landscape, it means the foundations will have to change too.

For the staff in Cairo, Egypt, it came as a shock when, in December 2011, armed police officers entered the offices of the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), a German political foundation. They confiscated computers, took files and led office manager Andreas Jacobs out of the building. They then questioned him over a period of hours. The raids had initially targeted American foundations, but during police investigations the German KAS also came under scrutiny.

In the criminal case brought against Jacobs, the KAS is accused of having used foreign funds without first informing Egyptian authorities. The accusations were met with sharp criticism in Germany, particularly in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, where parliamentarians responded with outrage. In a statement released in February 2012, members of the Bundestag called the accusations both baseless and absurd.

Calming down

A man in a blue business suit looks unhappily at the camera while standing in front of a building (Photo: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung/dpa)

Andreas Jacobs in front of the Cairo office that was raided by Egpytian police

Now, tensions seem to have eased, even if court proceedings against office manager Jacobs have not been halted. During Mohammed Morsi's recent visit to Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel reassured the Egyptian president that any work done by the KAS in Egypt in the future would be based on the German-Egyptian cultural accord. The move is an attempt to ensure greater legal security for the foundation and its work in Egypt.

The KAS, which is closely aligned with Chancelor Merkel's Christian Democrat Union, could therefore soon resume its work. Roland Meinardus, who manages the regional office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) in Cairo, believes that it will soon be business as usual once more.

"The KAS will soon be able to start thinking about when their next project leader will be sent to them," Meinardus said in an interview with DW.

Germany's unique foundations

That would once again bring the total of German political foundations represented in Egypt to four. In addition to the KAS and the FNF, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung - closely aligned to the Social Democratic Party of Germany - and the Hanns-Seidl-Stiftung - with links to the Christian Social Union in Bavaria - also have offices in Cairo.

A middle-aged man with round eyeglasses looks off-camera in a forum setting.
(Photo: no info)

Ronald Meinardus's foundation has seen its work restricted due to raids

For Egyptians, says Roland Meinardus, it's not very easy to understand what these foundations are trying to accomplish. "The problem is that, internationally, such institutions are quite unique."

The organizations are as much think tanks as they are consultancies. They organize conferences, exhibits and congresses; provide education programs for students, politicians and media representatives; and bring experts to the country. They have been active in Egypt since the 1970s.

"What we want to achieve there is the development of a mature and informed public," says Andreas Jacobs, former manager of the Cairo office of the KAS. The goal is to educate and better equip individuals to develop opinions and think politically. Over the past decades the focus of the foundations' work has shifted. At times, the spotlight was on universities and at other times on women's rights or the rule of law.

Different priorities

Such topics are not only current, but "very important," said Andreas Jacobs, "especially in the aera of the social market economy in the wake of the revolution. There are massive imbalances in this country. Investors are staying away and the value of  the pound is sinking."

According to Jacobs, the task of the German political foundations - together with domestic partners - is to discuss which measures will boost the economy and help its people, as well as how Germany might be able to help.

Roland Meinardus also believes that, as a political foundation, one has to remain flexible. "We do think hard as to how we'll fit in the new Egypt. Not only Egypt has changed. I'm convinced that we also have to change."

In the wake of Egyptian raids on KAS and US foundations, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation scaled down its work - even though the foundation was not directly impacted by the raids.

A worker cleans the vacant hallway of an office building.
(Photo: EPA/KHALED ELFIQI)

The now-empty offices of the KAS, one of 17 rights groups and NGOs raided by Egyptian police

New goal groups

Meinardus would now like to work on developing a working relationship with Islamist groups. His foundation had previously neglected to do so after being inofficially banned from establishing such contacts. As a result, the foundation was unable to reach a large portion of the Egyptian public.

"We now have established first contacts. This is all new territory," he said. He hopes the Egyptian public reacts positively to this new initiative. The foundation, he says, will continue to require political support based on agreements with ministries and relevant institutions in both countries.

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development will continue to provide financial support to the foundation. In 2011 it contributed six million euros toward the promotion of democracy and independent media throughout the region. The largest proportion of these funds went to the political foundations that were already on the ground.

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