CAIRO: Controversy has swirled around President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s Wednesday appointment of former SCAF- and Hosni Mubarak-era minister Fayza Aboulnaga to presidential adviser for national security.
Aboulnaga served as minister of international cooperation from 2001-2012, and Egyptians have nicknamed her the “Iron Lady” for her aggressive, at times hostile stance towards U.S. NGOs, and her ability to remain in power despite multiple regime changes. Sisi’s other Wednesday appointments included Maj. Gen. Ahmed el-Sayed Gamal el-Din as adviser for security and fighting terrorism affairs, and Khaled Ali El-Bakly as the secretary-general of the National Security Council. Gamal el-Din previously served as the Minister of Interior in 2012
In response to the Aboulnaga appointment, The New York Times wrote Wednesday a piece titled “Egypt Elevates an Official Hostile to U.S.” in which it referred to Aboulnaga as the provoker of “one of the biggest crises in Cairo’s 35-year-old alliance with Washington.”
Aboulnaga was behind a crackdown campaign on NGOs aimed at banning unregistered organizations from operating or receiving funds from 2011-2012. American NGOs such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute, Freedom House and International Center for Journalists were raided by security forces.
At least 17 offices of 10 NGOs operating throughout Egypt were put under investigation and Aboulnaga was labeled by journalists as the “architect of the crackdown on NGOs.” The case became known as the “foreign funding case,” and on June 4, 2013, 43 multi-national NGO workers were ordered by the Cairo Criminal Court to serve prison sentences ranging between one and five years. Many were sentenced in absentia and did not actually go to jail.
Aboulnaga wrote an explanation of the circumstances at the time. “The NGOs under investigation are not registered; their activities are, therefore, illegal. All nations restrict foreign political activities and foreign funding of those activities within their borders. Some of the alleged NGO activities would violate American laws if undertaken by foreign entities in the US […] Several staff members of one unregistered NGO collectively resigned, stating on independent television that the organization was engaged ‘in suspicious and wrongdoing activities, discriminating against Muslims and violating other laws,’” Aboulnaga wrote in an op-ed published by The Washington Post on March 9, 2012.