Egypt court defends NGO verdict, decries US 'soft imperialism'

Ayat Al-Tawy, Wednesday 5 Jun 2013

Foreign-funded civil society aims to 'destabilise, weaken and dismantle' beneficiary countries, Cairo Criminal Court asserts in defence of Tuesday's controversial NGO verdicts

Robert Becker
FILE PHOTO: American Robert Becker of the National Democratic Institute leaves the defendants' cage after a hearing in the trial of employees of nonprofit groups in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo: AP)

Cairo Criminal Court on Wednesday released the details of its verdict that sentenced 43 non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers to between one and five years in prison.

The court on Tuesday sentenced twenty-seven defendants tried in absentia, including at least 15 US citizens, to five-year jail sentences. Eleven received one-year suspended sentences, and five received two-year sentences.

Defendants were convicted on charges of illegally operating in Egypt and receiving foreign funding without permission.

Tuesday's verdict sparked international outrage and fuelled domestic fears over the transition to democracy and the future of freedom of association.

Anti-democracy plots

Listing the main points behind the verdict, the court ruling started off with criticising foreign funding as a new form of "control, predominance and soft imperialism practiced by donors to destabilise, weaken and dismantle beneficiary countries."

The verdict said the US or any pro-Zionist country works against democracy in Egypt.

"History shows that such countries hold the entrenched belief that their interests are best served by totalitarian dictatorships and harmed by genuine democracies."

While foreign funding is ostensibly geared towards supporting human rights activities and democracy advocacy, the underlying aim is to "undermine Egypt's national security and lay out a sectarian, political map that serves US and Israeli interests," the verdict read.

"The US – fearing democracy ushered in by Egypt's popular revolt – has used funding to take the revolution off its path," the verdict continued.

US organisations in Egypt had undertaken political activities in violation to the sovereignty of the state, the court said. According to the court, this action is penalised in all countries including the US itself.

The court went on to assert that Germany, through its Berlin-based Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), carried out activities that "should not be licensed."

This includes, according to the verdict, political training workshops as well as funding grassroots individual and groups unlicensed to work in civil society activities in Egypt.

Unaware of law

The court also stressed that despite being unaware that their respective organisations lacked official registration and were uninformed about laws regulating the issue, the defendants are still guilty of "criminal intention."

"Failing to verify legal registration of respective employers and [criminal] intention are the same thing," read the verdict.

The conviction of the accused workers was based on the Penalties Law rather than the Law of Association.

While Article 76 of the Law of Association imposes punishments for acts in question, the court ruled on the case in accordance with Penalties Law on grounds that the latter "gives harsher punishments than the Law of Association."

Some of the accused organisations submitted registration requests to the Egyptian foreign ministry back in 2005 and began operating after the latter did not voice objections within the set period of time.

The court found them guilty of unlawfully operating in the country.

According to the details of the verdict, foreign organisations are required to make a "routine agreement" with the foreign ministry or social solidarity ministry to become officially accredited.

Egyptian law regulating non-governmental organisations only allows Egyptian civil society groups to operate via a notification to the social solidarity ministry in case the latter does not voice rejection within a 60-day period.

"A mere request does not have any legal consequences to allow foreign organisations to operate in Egypt," the verdict read.

Under Mubarak, the government used to leave international groups in some kind of grey area for years by neither approving their registration within the specified 60-day period, nor banning them from operating.

Dozens of organisations operated for years, with the knowledge of authorities, without being 'officially' registered.

The court concluded by calling for investigations into those responsible for allowing the foreign defendants to flee the country.

Cairo attempted to defuse tension with the US caused by the case, which began in February 2012, by allowing some activists to leave the country, including Sam LaHood, the son of US transport secretary Ray LaHood.

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