In Egypt, employees of a number of foreign NGOs have been sentenced to jail terms in absentia, among them representatives of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The shameful process throws a spotlight on decades of state control and the legal insecurity of NGOs operating in the Nile region. A commentary by Karim El-Gawhary
The Egyptian court's verdict is a harsh one. It sentences 43 employees of NGOs to jail terms of between one and five years. They are accused of the illegal transfer of funds as well as working without a licence. Those sentenced include two members of staff at the Germann Konrad Adenauer Foundation and several US foundations, all of which must now close their offices in Cairo.
The verdict's underlying message is clear: If we can do this with the Americans and the Germans, then we can do the same with all Egyptian NGOs. No Egyptian human rights organization or women's group is operating on secure terrain in Egypt.
In this respect, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation – just like the US foundations also in the dock – essentially served as a sparring partner for the Egyptian authorities to discourage Egyptian NGOs and activists.
Andreas Jacobs, head of the Adenauer Foundation in Cairo, sentenced to five years in prison, goes to ground with the verdict. At least in the conferred sense, after all Jacobs, is not even in the ring. He and one other German staff member were sentenced in absentia.
Warning shot for all NGOs
But there is something curious about this case. The foreign employees of the organizations in the dock were released on bail ahead of the verdict, and a travel ban was then lifted. The aim was to uphold the threatening message without really hurting the NGO staff.
Only one American, Robert Becker, who worked for the "National Democratic Institute" (NDI), refused to leave the country – out of solidarity with his Egyptian colleagues. He was fired by Obama's Democrats for this decision. So much for providing foreign foundations with a backbone.
Becker has now been sentenced to two years in prison and can be viewed as the real hero of this shameful process.
Incidentally, there has been a method to the whole affair for some time already. During the Mubarak era it was official policy to maintain the status of NGOs in a legal grey area, so that the thumbscrews could then be applied whenever activities became uncomfortable. Even when organizations wanted to register they were often held in a long bureaucratic queue.
There is a method to this, to this very day. The fact that Egypt's parliament is now debating a new, restrictive NGO law also bodes ill for the future. Even in the new Egypt, the state plans to retain full control and preferably take the 'non' out of NGO.
© Qantara.de 2013
Translated from the German by Nina Coon
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de