As American democracy officials charged with provoking unrest in Egypt met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill today, Egyptian activists tried to gauge the implications of the NGO crisis for the country’s emerging democratic forces.
Meanwhile, lawyers filed complaints with the Prosecutor General against the head of Cairo’s Appeals Court for his alleged culpability in lifting a travel ban on foreign nationals accused being prosecuted for allegedly illegal political activities.
Several foreign-based democracy activists were allowed to leave Egypt last Friday, but the state news agency reported this weekend that a new trial of 43 non-governmental organization workers, including 16 Americans, will start in a Cairo criminal court on March 8, while the newly-elected Parliament said it would “hold accountable” officials who interfered with the judiciary to ensure the release of the foreign activists.
The non-Egyptian defendants are unlikely to return for the trial, Daily News Egypt reports, “despite reports that they signed documents pledging to attend the next hearing:”.
“The way they were smuggled out of the country guarantees that they will never return, and any verdict issued against them will be completely useless,” said [general coordinator of the Association of Lawyers for Saving Egypt, Khaled] Suleiman.
However defense lawyer Tawhid Ramzy, representing defendants affiliated with the International Republican Institute (IRI), refuted these claims, saying that the court could order the defendants back to Egypt with its verdict.
“These complaints against Ibrahim won’t affect the case or weaken my clients’ positions,” he added.
Ashraf El-Ashmawy, an investigating judge in the case spoke of “humiliation and injustice” at the authorities’ decision to lift a travel ban that allowed accused foreign nationals charged in case suspects “to escape.”
“The decision to let them to leave the country was illegal,” he said. “What’s more, it’s unfair to prosecute the Egyptian defendants in the case while allowing the foreigners to leave the country scot-free.”
The previous trial effectively collapsed after the presiding judges recused themselves from the case. The charges against the accused activists have reportedly been reduced to misdemeanors that do not carry a jail sentence.
The speaker of the parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Saad al-Katatny, said Parliament would “hold accountable those responsible for this crime, which represented a blatant intervention in the affairs of Egypt’s judiciary.”
The decision to lift a travel ban on accused American and other foreign nationals was described as a “catastrophe” by representatives of the Brotherhood and its affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.
“It is within Parliament’s role to stand up to this crime and to hold all those involved accountable, regardless of who they are and what their positions may be,” said Katatny.
“A number of judges filed a complaint over the past couple of days against Ibrahim and the three judges who decided to lift the travel ban off the foreign defendants illegally,” Judge Zakaria Abdel Aziz, of the Cairo Appeals Court and former head of the Judges Club, told Daily News Egypt on Monday.
Cairo’s crackdown on domestic and foreign-based civil society groups remains “a matter of serious continuing concern” for the Obama administration, a State Department spokeswoman said Saturday.
“The United States is committed to supporting the transition to democracy in Egypt, and we welcome the progress that has been made by Egypt in conducting free elections for both houses of parliament,” “said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The Obama administration had agreed to pay the cost of bail for the defendants, she said, “as part of the activities that the U.S. government funds.”
“The NGOs paid the bail out of money that they received from the U.S. government,” she said. “We agreed to this because the situation arose in the context of the democracy promotion work that they were doing that we had funded and supported.”
The excessive focus on Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abouelnaga, widely perceived as the instigator of the crackdown, overlooks the fact that the campaign against Egyptian NGOs started prior to the January 25 revolution and intensified afterwards.
The post-revolutionary crackdown was due to the determination of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and Mubarak holdovers like former intelligence director Omar Suleiman, the former director of Egypt’s General Intelligence, to stem the transition’s democratic momentum:
According to a trustworthy source, in the first cabinet meeting following the US decision to fund pro-democracy NGOs in Egypt, Abouelnaga warned the Egyptian government that it should prepare for a new revolution, bringing the following question to the table: “if the January 25 revolution erupted amid restrictions on US funding of pro-democracy NGOs, what would happen when the restrictions are removed?” ……That’s why it quickly forged an alliance with the Islamists, issued several laws to increase restrictions on demonstrations and strikes, and put in place legal obstacles to block the transformation of political youth groups into parties, ultimately targeting them with accusations of treason and military trials.
“The NGOs alone did not pose a major threat to Egypt’s status quo,” writes Adel el-Adawy. But the NGOs as part of the larger youth activist network pushing for a democratic Egypt presented major dangers to SCAF interests.”
That alliance represented a refutation of the Mubarak orthodoxy that sustained the previous regime: that Islamist rule was the only feasible alternative to the status quo.
“The Tahrir movement with support of the NGOs challenged the Mubarak Doctrine to its core,” Adaway contends. Consequently, the NGO crackdown “is a real blow to the Tahrir movement and all the moderate pro-secular forces in Egypt.”
“In his testimony in the Mubarak trial,” Hassan continues…
Omar Suleiman also explained that the revolution took place due to the influence of foreign organizations in Egypt. The remarks of both Suleiman and Abouelnaga implicitly consolidate their belief that there was never any real justification for the revolution. Instead, the revolution, they believe, is the product of foreign money and conspiracies, as if the Egyptian people are incapable of rebelling without someone paying them to do so.
For the SCAF, the aims of the revolution’s goal begin and end with preventing Gamal Mubarak from assuming power.
In the wake of the NGO funding dispute, some key questions remain:
Has the security apparatus—which has been fed hostility towards Islamists for decades, considering them the primary internal enemy—prepared itself for the day when Islamists come to power? Or for the day after, when Islamists undertake an ideological purge of the apparatus to eliminate members that are perceived as antagonistic to political Islam/
While the apparent collapse of the NGO prosecutions seems to be a setback for the military, former regime elements and Islamists who supported the crackdown, the reality is that with the Muslim Brotherhood and the military poised as the two main forces pushing for power, “the Mubarak Doctrine is flourishing like never before,” says Adawy.
“The NGOs and young activists are pursuing a legitimate agenda of promoting democracy in Egypt. But, the Tahrir force is still weak,” Adaway concedes, but it can “if supported, really undermine once and for all the Mubarak Doctrine.”