Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Blog
By: Lama Al-Arian
Summer 2013 Intern
In December 2011, Egyptian police conducted raids on 17 NGO offices around Cairo. The offices were closed, both Egyptian and American NGO workers were arrested, and in January 2012, several American citizens were placed on a “no fly” list and prevented from leaving the country.
The seven Americans spent weeks held up in the US embassy before the Egyptian government finally lived the travel ban. The United States government threatened to cut off aid to Egypt if the Americans were not released. All but one American left the country.
Robert Becker, a trainer for the National Democratic Institute, refused to board the plane back to the United States as he instead wished to show solidarity with his fellow Egyptian prisoners.
"I am honored to have stood in a cage for a dozen hearings this past year-and-a-half with my colleagues," Becker said in a blog post.
On June 4th, all 43 NGO representatives charged as a result of the raids were convicted in an Egyptian court. Sixteen Americans, including AAI Alumni Sam LaHood and Natasha Tynes, were among those convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison and a $143 fine. All but one American was sentenced in absentia.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, “On trial beside the Egyptians and Americans were eight other foreigners, of Serbian, Palestinian, Lebanese, and other nationalities.”
The NGOs, including Freedom House, International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, and International Center for Journalists, claimed to be in Egypt to promote civic engagement. They were targeted under a Mubarak-era law prohibiting foreign-funded organizations from operating in the country without permission from the government. All of the organizations asserted that they had filed for registration and were operating legally.
On May 29, the Morsi government submitted a revised law to the interim legislature which stated that civil society groups could not operate unless they received a certificate of registration from Egypt’s social solidarity ministry.
However, a joint statement from Human Rights Watch and 40 Egyptian NGOs claims the Morsi proposal would subject organizations to “legal restrictions even more severe than those imposed by the Mubarak regime." They continue:
The president’s party and his government are working to issue a new law designed to nationalize civil society and deal a mortal blow to human rights organizations. There are currently two similar bills under consideration, differing in their details but evincing the same authoritarian philosophy. Either bill, if passed, will serve to insulate the old machine of repression and torture from criticism and oversight, facilitate the suppression of freedom of expression and the press, and eliminate the relative protection that rights groups currently provide to victims of human rights abuses.
Similarly, in a statement last Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry decried Egypt’s closure of the NGOs as “contradict[ing] the Government of Egypt's commitments to support the role of civil society as a fundamental actor in a democracy and contributor to development, especially at this critical stage in the Egyptian people's democratic transition.”
According to Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, the court issued a statement explaining its decision while characterizing foreign funding as "control, predominance and soft imperialism practiced by donors to destabilize, weaken and dismantle beneficiary countries."
The statement also asserted that the US was using funds to highjack the revolution and Egypt’s democracy. It claimed that foreign funding may seem to be “geared towards supporting human rights activities and democracy advocacy, [however] the underlying aim is to "undermine Egypt's national security and lay out a sectarian, political map that serves US and Israeli interests."
On the eve of the verdict, Becker was hopeful as he wrote “If evidence matters in an Egyptian court, tomorrow’s verdict will be not guilty.”
Becker’s lawyer clearly establishes that “the NGO was in fact legal under Egyptian law, and second, [he] arrived in 2011, while the NGO was formed in 2005.” Closing argument threads can be read here, here and here.
“But this case has been political from the very beginning; so guilty is also real possibility, despite the lack of evidence,” Becker wrote. “We put our faith in the judges and their independence from politics to look solely at the evidence and rule accordingly... Obviously our lawyers will appeal should the ruling go against us.”
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