NGO’s Crisis: A difficult test for U.S.-Egypt Relations

Egypt's decision to try 16 American employees of pro-democracy organizations is severely testing U.S. - Egypt relations.

CAIRO, 26 February 2012 - On Sunday February 26, 2012, Egyptian authorities referred 16 Americans and 27 other employees of pro-democratic Non-Governmental Organizations to trial on charges that include illegal use of foreign funds and fomenting unrest. The pro-democracy groups involved deny any wrongdoing.   

The Crisis of NGO’s in Egypt started last Dec.2011 when the Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Aboul Naga, officially charged NGOs with illegal actions.  She is the driving force behind the accusation against the civil society groups. The official MENA News quoted Aboul Naga saying, “the U.S. was surprised by the Jan. 25th, uprising that slipped from its control and was transformed into a people revolution,” she added “that was when the U.S. decided to use all its resources to contain the situation and push it in a direction that serves America and Israeli’s interests.”

Aboul Naga is one of  the few remaining ministers from former dictator Hosni Mubarak’s era.  She has held the office for 11 years.  

Some political analyst believe that the current government deliberately magnified the  story of  NGO’s, their illegal funds and their unlicensed political activities to gain popularity in Egypt and to divert  the high tide of criticism against their performance.  Regardless of the reason for the initial inquiry, the official investigation found that funding for multiple civil society groups, including groups from the U.S., Germany, and Qatar were illegal.

The NGOs counter the charges of illegal funding and unlicensed activity by saying they have participated in Egypt since 2005.  Laila Gafar, an American/Syrian official says that most of the political parties in Egypt, including the Muslim Brotherhood, received special training courses at the Democratic Institute in Cairo. Furthermore, the Egyptian authorities invited the NGOs to observe the 2011 parliamentary elections.

Washington has warned that going forward with trials could prompt a cut to the annual aid of approximately. $1.5 Billion that Egypt has received since 1987.  During an official visit by senior U.S. officials, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the de facto head of government, said the Egyptian administration is working to resolve the issue and NGO workers will soon  be given the opportunity to return home. Meanwhile, the official media announced that the case was initiated by the judiciary, not the military, so it is out of military hands.  

Councillor Thrwat Abdel Shaheed, the lawyer defending the NGO employees, believe the government will postpone the trial to allow it time to gather more evidence.  The Americans accused in the case have been barred from leaving Egypt, although some have left the country and others have taken refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

The official media intensified the NGOs crisis and focused on the future relations between U.S. and Egypt. A western diplomat said that condemning the NGOs is deeply unhelpful and adds to the growing anti-foreigner discourse which risks perhaps damages Egypt’s international reputation. Some Egyptians resent U.S. interference, saying that everyone in Egypt is subject to Egyptian law, regardless of how much aid their host countries provide.  Most Egyptians do not hate Americans, but do hate U.S. politics.  Egyptians see America as an advanced, new world where the values of human beings are sacred.  They believe the same principals should apply in Egypt, whether it involves Americans or Egyptians or anyone else.  

However, until the NGO crisis is resolved, tensions between the U.S. and Egypt will remain high.

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Anwaar Abdalla

Anwaar Abadallah Khalik Ibrahim has her Ph.D. from Ain Shams University (1999, first degree honour) and currently lectures on Civilization and Cultural Affairs for Helwan University.  Dr. Abdalla Kahlik Ibrahim also works as an official coordinator for the cultural exchange program between Helwan Uni and TSU in the USA entitled “Cultural Immersion 2011-2014.”

Additionally, Ms. Abdallah is a member of the Egyptian and Arab women’s writer’s union and the Cairo Women Association.  She is also the translator of several books published by the Ministry of Culture including Shadows on the Grass, Impossible Peace and The Secret Rapture. Dr. Ibrahim is also an accomplished author and essayist in both Arabic and English publications. 


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