News / Middle East

Egypt Imposes Jail Sentences on Absent Foreign NGO Workers

Friends of Egyptian suspects react as they listen to the judge's verdict at a court room during a case against foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cairo, June 4, 2013
Friends of Egyptian suspects react as they listen to the judge's verdict at a court room during a case against foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cairo, June 4, 2013
Edward Yeranian
An Egyptian court has convicted 43 workers for foreign non-profit agencies, including at least 15 Americans, on charges of illegally using funds to stir unrest in the country.  The decision is apparently aimed at restricting operations of foreign non-governmental groups that advocate democracy.

Egyptian Judge Makram Awad says he was sentencing the foreign NGO workers to five years in prison and fining them 1,000 Egyptian pounds. Most of the Americans affected had left the country months ago, so the ruling was made in their absence.

The employees of U.S.-based democracy advocacy NGOs were given sentences for “illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest” in Egypt.

The court also ordered the permanent closures of the Egyptian offices of the non-governmental organizations, which include the U.S.-based Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

A friend of several Egyptians convicted by the court expressed outrage at the ruling.

He said his two friends who work for Freedom House were just employees, who received their salaries every month, but had nothing to do with any illegal activities.  He said they coordinated all their activities with the Egyptian foreign ministry.

Raafat Othman, an attorney for several of the defendants, contends the prosecution's case was weak and that the sentences could be overturned on appeal.

Othman said the verdict was expected due to the current political climate in Egypt.  But he said the case was weak and that the verdict based on political motivations.  He said the verdict will undoubtedly be appealed.

Said Sadek, who teaches political sociology at the American University in Cairo, notes that Egypt's upper house of parliament is considering a new law governing the operations of foreign NGOs.

Sadek said the law is aimed at foreign civil society groups and not at charitable organizations.

"The government is working on trimming the wings of these organizations by controlling their finances," said Sadek. "If you, for example, take funds from an international organization to monitor, for example, torture.....if they don't like it, maybe they will disapprove this funding. Autocratic regimes are always against independent civil society, especially [human rights] organizations and what they do regarding monitoring the activities of government."

The crackdown began in 2011. Egyptian authorities raided the offices of several U.S.-based pro-democracy groups and NGOs and filed charges against 16 American activists on suspicions of using illegally obtained funds to undermine Egypt's stability.

The U.S. workers were released last year after intense behind-the-scenes political negotiations between U.S. political leaders and Egypt's then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

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