CAIRO: Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies NGO Director Dalia Ziada issued her resignation from the center Saturday, saying her exit came following a disagreement with the center’s head and founder Saad Eddin Ibrahim about the “direction” the center was headed.
Founded in 1988, Ibn Khaldun is a prominent human rights NGO that works both in Egypt and internationally. Because of this advocacy, both its supporters and critics have said its work has an anti-authority streak since its work during the Hosni Mubarak period.
Ziada posted her resignation on Facebook Saturday, and in it said that before she became director, the center was a “thorn in the side of the homeland,” but for three years she tried to “balance” its performance.
Ziada’s exit is unique among recent NGO closure and departure announcements in that many NGO leaders have as of late shuttered or left their organizations due to what they said was government interference and pressure. Under the controversial new NGO Law, NGOs are required to register with the government, and their boards of directors must be approved by the government. Authorities also have the right under the law to fire existing board members and appoint management.
In her resignation, Ziada added that Saturday morning she read an article written by Ibrahim in Al-Masry Al-Youm talking about her role and the center’s performance at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva earlier this month. She said his op-ed made it sound as if she supported the government “blindly,” especially at international conferences.
‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’
At the U.N.’s Universal Periodic Review of Egypt’s human rights record at the Geneva conference, Egypt faced wide criticism for its handling of personal freedoms, despite government efforts to put a positive spin on the affair by saying some curtailing of freedoms was necessary given Egypt’s current security situation.
On Friday, Ibrahim wrote in his Al-Masry Al-Youm op-ed titled “Shall We Try Sisi for Receiving Foreign Aid” that most of the NGOs that traveled to Geneva to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt actually supported the government delegation, answered all questions and defended it against accusations. “We should not show off our dirty laundry,” he said, adding that this was the instruction he gave Ziada.
He added, however, it was not the NGOs’ role to defend the government by issuing “naive” quotes.
“With that policy, and the center’s history, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and for God’s sake tell the truth about freedoms in our society,” Ibrahim wrote.
Ziada countered though that what Ibrahim said in his op-ed did not thank her and her subordinates for their work, or what they did in Geneva. “It was actually kind of blaming us because we didn’t show our dirty laundry claiming that we were supporting the government… we weren’t used in trying to improve its image internationally.”
“This is something I completely refuse,” Ziada added in her resignation letter.
‘No going back’
In a phone call with Al-Tahrir TV Saturday, Ziada said a row between her and Ibrahim began shortly after the launch of a campaign she started to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group internationally, and that Ibrahim refused to allow Ibn Khaldun to do the campaign. “That’s why I started it independently,” she said.
“In Geneva, the Muslim Brotherhood was more than ready to distort Egypt’s image. Our reality now contains a lot of ugly things, including these terrorist attacks that happen almost daily, and I’m feeling sad because someone like Dr. Ibrahim doesn’t realize that,” Ziada said. She added that Ibrahim always saw NGOs and the government as “rivals” not “complementing” each other. Muslim Brotherhood activities were banned in Egypt according to a judicial order issued Sep. 23, 2013.
She continued by saying she was preparing now to legally establish her own center for human rights in order to more fully express her views. “The book on Ibn Khaldun has been closed because of this, and I think there is no going back,” Ziada said.
Ibrahim, however, was congenial in a Saturday phone interview with Qahira wal Nas TV, saying he only heard about Ziada’s resignation from media reports, and that she was a very active woman whose departure would be a loss for the center.
“Dalia read the article before it was published, and had no objection about any of its content,” Ibrahim said.
He also told Youm7 in a statement published Saturday that sending Ziada the article before publishing it was the right thing to do, as he mentioned her name in it.