CAIRO: Egyptian justice officials and police raided offices of 17 non-government organisations on Thursday, including two prominent U.S.-based pro-democracy groups that run programmes training political parties.
The official MENA news agency said 17 "civil society organisations" had been targeted as part of an investigation into foreign funding of such groups.
"The public prosecutor has searched 17 civil society organisations, local and foreign, as part of the foreign funding case," official news agency MENA cited the prosecutor's office as saying. "The search is based on evidence showing violation of Egyptian laws including not having permits."
The raids targeted local offices of the U.S.-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI), among others, said a security source and employees at some of the organisations.
"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," said one person working at NDI, who gave her name as Rawda.
The security source said employees at the offices were not allowed to leave while the searches continued. It said the prosecutor had confiscated documents and machines as part of the investigation.
Egypt's military has vowed to investigate how pro-democracy and human rights organisations are funded and has said repeatedly it will not tolerate foreign interference in the country's affairs.
Some Egyptian rights groups have been at the vanguard of protests demanding that the army, in power since February when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted, hand power swiftly to elected civilians.
Clashes between protesters and soldiers in Cairo this month killed 17 people. The army has pledged to step aside by mid-2012.
The NDI and IRI, loosely associated with the U.S. Democratic and Republican political parties, say they take a neutral political stance, fostering democracy in Egypt by training members of nascent parties in democratic processes.
"The National Democratic Institute has been training new parties ... in how to participate in elections," a leading member of a liberal party said on condition of anonymity. "This has been with the full knowledge of authorities and was not clandestine."
The NDI said on its website that it organises an exchange of ideas between countries that have managed a transition to democracy and others that aspire to it.
The IRI says it is working with Egyptian activists to strengthen their knowledge of political party development, campaign strategy and public opinion research.