Suspect rights group GNRD fights back

Christine Smith-Simonsen, head of Tromsø university's Centre for Peace Studies, signing an agreement with GNRD last March

An update on latest developments in the evolving GNRD scandal:

Loai Deeb, founder and president of the Global Network for Rights and Development, has returned to his Norwegian base following a visit to the United Arab Emirates where his organisation has various connections. He is expected to give a TV interview in Norway later today.

Deeb's return also signalled the start of a counter-attack by GNRD against the Norwegian authorities following police raids on Deeb's home and the GNRD headquarters in connection with a money-laundering investigation.

GNRD yesterday issued a press release in Arabic denouncing the police raids as "unjustified and irresponsible" and 
threatening to sue Norway for $2 billion compensation.

Meanwhile Deeb's lawyer, Kjell Brygfjeld, circulated a statement in English signed by 174 Egyptian organisations which declared their "solidarity" with GNRD in the face of a "vicious attack from one of the rich oil states". 

The list of signatories was headed by Maat for Peace, Development, and Human Rights which was GNRD's partner in an observer mission for the presidential election in Egypt last year. More recently, Maat supported the Sisi regime's plans to restrict NGO activities in Egypt – a move that is strongly opposed by numerous other Egyptian NGOs.

Aside from the money-laundering investigation, Deeb and GNRD have not responded directly to the numerous other criticisms of them (which are well documented). Instead, they continue to insist that it's all a vicious plot cooked up by Qatar. This theme is also regurgitated by an article in Daily News Egypt.

In Norway, Tromsø university has now joined Stavanger university in severing ties with GNRD. Both of them had signed agreements with the organisation earlier this year. 

There is still no word from Valencia university in Spain which may not have a formal agreement with GNRD but has allowed it to use university premises for meetings.

GNRD had been seeking out deals with universities in what seems to have been an attempt to acquire credibility through association.

Describing what happened in Tromsø, Erik Iversen writes that a GNRD staff member, Krishna Upadhyaya, contacted Christine Smith-Simonsen, head of the university's Centre for Peace Studies, sending her information about GNRD and what he could offer.

Upadhyaya later visited the Peace Studies centre, accompanied by Ahmad Salem, GNRD's chief public relations manager, and on March 12 an internship agreement was signed.

A photograph of the signing ceremony was posted on GNRD's website, along with a report which set alarm bells ringing at the Peace Studies centre because it exaggerated the nature of the relationship. Acting on legal advice, the Peace Studies centre then decided not to implement the agreement.

The report about the Tromsø deal on GNRD's website has since been deleted but it is quoted in a blog post that I wrote at the time.

Palestinian connections

The Norwegian newspaper Aftenbladet has been talking to Salim Deyab, a 58-year-old Palestinian who currently heads the Palestinian-Norwegian Cultural Organisation.

Deyab (or Diab?) tells the paper that GNRD was conceived in June 2008 during a month-long seminar for Palestinian organisations in Geneva.

"We thought that they needed a non-governmental organisation working on human rights, and we founded the organisation," he tells Aftenbladet.

Deyab says he and Deeb (also of Palestinian origin) attended GNRD's foundation meeting, along with four other (unnamed) Palestinian men but the seven-page founding document was signed only by Deeb and Deyab.

An inaugural meeting of GNRD was later held in Sudan, with an agreement for follow-up meetings every three months. 

Reportedly, the follow-up meetings did not happen and Deyab withdrew from GNRD along with the others – apparently leaving it in Deeb's hands. During the Sudan trip, Deyab says, Deeb presented himself as "Doctor Deeb" and "Professor Deeb".

Aftonbladet says that in a 2008 interview with the newspaper, Deeb claimed to have a doctorate in international law from Oxford university. According to Norwegian media reports, before running GNRD Deeb was actually employed as an airport security guard.

paragraph in Daily News Egypt mentions another Palestinian connection:

"According to an article by the Yemen Economist, Deeb has close ties with a former leader in the Palestinian Fatah movement, who is in turn a close advisor of Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan."

(I have located the Yemen Economist website but have so far not found the article this refers to.)Last February a French-language magazine in Switzerland, Proche et Moyen Orient, alleged that GNRD's counter-terrorism conference in Geneva (which I blogged about recently) was funded by businessmen who included Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian security chief. I have so far not been able to verify this claim.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Thursday, 18 June 2015