Egyptian Government Cracks Down on Pro-Democracy NGOs
February 7, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly
On February 5, Egyptian authorities arrested 43 workers from pro-democracy nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on charges of illegal foreign financing of nonprofit groups. Judge Ashraf al-Ashmawy stated that the NGO workers are charged with “accepting funds from an international organization to pursue an activity prohibited by law.” The trial will take place in the Cairo criminal court, though a date has not been set. According to the Washington Post, of the 43 persons charged, 14 have been listed by the Egyptian government as “fugitives” and are assumed to have left the country before the government issued a travel ban on those charged. The New York Times reported that the arrests were politically motivated and part of a broader crackdown on civil society. The actions occurred after the Egyptian government released statements suggesting that the targeted organizations had helped finance unrest in the country by paying laborers to participate in protests. Commenting on the situation, Egyptian Foreign Minister Faiza Abu el-Naga stated, “The government will not hesitate to expose foreign schemes that threaten the stability of the homeland.”
Although licenses are required by law to operate an NGO in Egypt using foreign funds, the government restricts the ability of NGOs to obtain operating licenses. According to the New York Times, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) were operating without a license, but had been invited by the Egyptian government in Fall 2011 “as official observers of the parliamentary elections.” Sam LaHood, the director of IRI in Egypt, and Julie Hughes, director of NDI, were among those arrested. Other organizations under investigation include Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists (ICJ), and Konrad Adenauer. A total of nineteen Americans, 14 Egyptians, three Serbs, two Germans, two Lebanese, a Norwegian, a Palestinian, and a Jordanian are among those charged, Democracy Digest reported.
The United States (US) government, which has maintained good relations with Egypt throughout the country’s transition, condemned the arrest of the American NGO workers, the New York Times reported. In response to the arrests, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated: “We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt.” US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Susan Rice echoed Clinton’s warning, and added that the charged Americans were working “to build and support civil society as they seek to build a more democratic Egypt.” The US Congress now requires proof that Egypt is making progress toward democracy before aid can be released. Egypt, which expects $1.55 billion from the United States, must pass certification by the US Department of State. The New York Times reported that “lawmakers and administration officials say the crackdown on civil society groups could violate the criteria set out in the law.”
In response to the US reaction, the New York Times reported the Egyptian government recalled a delegation of generals that were scheduled to meet with lawmakers in Washington. Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr claimed the situation to be “a totally judicial issue.” He added, “We are doing our best to contain this but, well, if you are talking about democracy there is a separation between authorities—and we cannot actually exercise any influence on the investigating judges right now when it comes to the investigation.” Despite Amr’s comments, “the government, including the prosecutors, is under the direct authority of the military council.”
International organizations responded to the arrests. IRI released a statement saying that the investigations into the actions of civil society organizations are outside of the “legitimate judicial process,” and called the events part of “a politically motivated effort to squash Egypt’s growing civil society, orchestrated through the courts, in part by Mubarak-era hold overs.” Human Rights Watch has asked the Egyptian government to drop the charges against NGO workers and condemned the government’s actions: "Foreign funding is [the NGOs’] lifeline. Egypt's military government is now using the kind of tactics used by Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to silence independent voice."
According to Democracy Digest, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the current leader of the military regime, called for earlier elections in a bid to accelerate the transition from military to civilian rule. Candidates for the upcoming presidential election will announce their intentions beginning on March 10, a month earlier than planned. Voice of America reported that amid concerns that April or May elections did not leave enough time for a new constitution to be put into place, opposition activists hailed the victory as a concession resulting from a February 6 sit-in demonstration. The presidential election, originally scheduled for June 2012, will be the first since former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year.
Please see the full list of those charged below, courtesy of Democracy Digest:
Konrad Adenauer (2): Andreas Jacobs (DE) and Christina Baade (DE)
International Center For Journalists (5): Patrick Butler (US), Natasha Tynes (US), Mida(?) Michelle (US), Yehya Zakaria (EG) Islam Shafiq (EG)
Freedom House (7): Charles Dunne (US), Sherif Ahmed Sobhi Mansour (US), Samir Salim (Jordan), Mohamed Abdel Aziz (EG), Nancy Gamal Okeyl (EG), Basem Ali (EG), Magdy Moharam (EG)
International Republican Institute (14): Sam Lahood (US), Sherien Sahany (US), Christine Angel (US) Sort Chik (Serb), Hans Homis (Serb), John George (US), Reeda Khedr (Palestinian), Osama Azizi (US), Sian Mark (US), Elizabeth Dugan (US), Ahmed Shawqi (EG), Ahmed Abdel Aziz (EG), Ahmed Adam (EG), Essam Borei (EG)
National Democratic Institute (16): Julie Hughes (US), Almadin Krotovich (Serb), Bomeedir Milic (Serb), Layla Gafar (US), Robert Becker (US), Kabir Moderibee (US), Mariana Koravitch (Serb), Sitia Sia Leenhag (US), Dana Dikono (US), Ali Suleiman (Leb), Maron Safir (Leb), Michael James (US), Mohamed Ashraf (EG), Radwa Sayid (EG), Hafsa Halawa (EG), Amgad Morsi (EG)
For previous news on Egypt, please see:
Islamists Win a Majority of Seats in Egyptian Parliamentary Election
BBC – Egypt ‘to Put on Trial Foreign NGO Workers’
Democracy Digest – Egypt Names 44 NGO Activists to be Prosecuted
New York Times – Charges Against US-Aided Groups Come with History of Distrust in Egypt
New York Times - Egypt Defies U.S. by Setting Trial for 19 Americans on Criminal Charges
Washington Post - Egypt names Americans charged in NGO probe; Sam LaHood among those facing criminal charges
Voice of America – Egyptian Military, Under Pressure, Advances Election Timetable