Outcry over foreign NGOs convicted in Egypt

The United States is Egypt's top donor, but bilateral relations have been strained after a clampdown on four U.S.-based NGOs pushing for democracy in the country. Photo by: Gwenaël Piaser / CC BY-NC-SA

It’s a “witch-hunt.”

Foreign NGOs ordered to shut down their offices in Egypt after 43 of their expat and local employees were sentenced to jail terms on trumped-up charges expressed their outrage over the ruling on Tuesday.

“This whole case was a disgrace from the very beginning, and the verdict makes a mockery of the Egyptian judicial process,” David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House, said in a statement. Freedom House – along with fellow U.S.-based advocacy groups International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and International Center for Journalists as well as Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation  were among the NGOs whose foreign and local employees were convicted of receiving illegal funds and operating without a license in the wake of the popular revolt that brought down former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.

IRI agreed with Freedom House that this was not a “legitimate judicial process” but a politically-motivated effort to squash Egypt’s growing civil society, orchestrated through the courts, in part by Mubarak-era holdovers.”

“Today’s ruling will have a chilling effect on Egyptian civil society and, taken with other recent developments, raises serious questions about Egypt’s commitment to the democratic transition that so many people demanded when they took to the streets in early 2011,” the Washington, D.C.-based think tank added in a statement. NDI for its part stressed that “those wrongfully convicted were ultimately the victims of an intergovernmental dispute between the U.S. and the then-Egyptian government.”

ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan also had harsh words for the Egyptian authorities and insisted that their work in the country was never political: “We were simply upgrading the skills and standards of Egyptian professional and citizen journalists.”

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation did not release a statement, but German Foreign Minister Guido Westervelle described the verdict as “harsh” and summoned Egypt’s charge d’affaires in Berlin to give an official explanation to the government.

All of the institutions are expected to appeal the ruling, issued on Tuesday by a Cairo court.

The case goes back to December 2011, when Egyptian authorities raided the offices of the NGOs and accused them of using  foreign funds to foment unrest in the country, then still ruled by Mubarak. However the trial continued after the former regime fell, and has led to strained relations between with the United States, Egypt’s top donor.

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    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.

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