The Irrational Rationale from Egypt’s NGO Trial
Although the official reasoning for the verdicts delivered against the forty-three defendants accused of receiving unauthorized foreign funding has not yet been made public, excerpts of the rationale have filtered through the Egyptian press. The unofficial publicized portions reveal a disturbing xenophobic hostility towards civil society organizations that has little to do with the crime or the law under which the defendants were tried. The use of inflammatory language by the presiding judge, Makram Awad, suggests a reliance on popular xenophobic tendencies to rationalize the verdict.
Awad paradoxically vilifies the Mubarak regime’s subservience to US and Israeli interests while simultaneously echoing Mubarak-era rhetoric that ties democracy promotion and human rights to infringements of Egyptian sovereignty. He glorified the Egyptian revolution that called for freedom, justice, and human dignity while delivering a sentence that convicted NGO workers who strive to achieve those exact goals in Egypt. Finally, he relies on testimony from Mubarak-era figures – most prominent among them being Fayza Abul Naga, the architect behind this case – in lieu of concrete evidence to deliver the conviction.
Judge Awad’s preamble to the verdict gives credence to accusations of a politically motivated trial, and only serves to further impugn the credibility of the judiciary in Egypt:
Funding has become one of the global mechanisms that constitute the framework of international relations between donor and beneficiary. It has become a new form of control and domination, a soft imperialism – less costly in terms of loss and resistance than military might – pursued by donors to destabilize, weaken, and dismantle beneficiary countries.
Under the former regime that diminished Egypt's regional and international standing and prostrated before America’s will to normalize relations between Egypt and Israel, foreign funding for civil society organizations emerged as a manifestation of this normalization policy. It produced calls for foreign assistance, dialogue with the Other, democracy promotion, governance, human rights, and other synonyms that hide in its shadow. They emptied these terms of any true substance and imprinted upon it their greed and ambition to breach Egypt’s national security. They aimed to undermine and dismantle state institutions, leading to the division and disintegration of society. They aimed to restructure its national fabric, its sectarian and political map, to serve American and Israeli interests which surpassed those of the Egyptian people and their country under the former regime.
The degraded political and social conditions in Egypt, a sense of weariness by its people, and a lax, disintegrating state that left its fate in the hands of political groups (a gang) governed by special interests – not by loyalty to the homeland –brought forth a true popular revolt on January 25, 2011, to brush aside this rubble from the shoulders of the Egyptian people. It broke the chains of domination, subordination, and dependence on Israel that bloodied the wrist of every Egyptian, and reclaimed the freedom, human dignity, and social justice, long absent in Egypt. It overthrew the existing power and paved the way toward building a modern civil democratic state.
The United States, and supporters of the Zionist entity, felt fear and horror. The United States reacted by throwing all its weight against this change, but its old tactics could not suppress it. The issue of US funding took on new dimensions in an attempt to contain the revolution, to twist its path and direct it to serving its own interests and the interests of Israel. One manifestation was to establish Egyptian branches of foreign organizations that lie outside the legal framework to take on activities of a political nature (which would never be authorized) to breach the principle of “sovereignty,” a known principle in international law, and punishable in all countries of the world including the United States.
The Germans, through the headquarters of Konrad Adenauer, funded its employees to manage political activity that would never be authorized to begin with, and implemented hundreds of political training programs, workshops, and grants to persons, organizations, and entities unlicensed to operate in the civil sphere to prevent any infringement on Egypt's sovereignty.
I was reassured by testimony from Dr. Fayza Abul Naga, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, former Ambassador Marwan Zaki Badr, supervisor of the Office of the Minister of International Cooperation, Osama Abdel Moneim Shaltout, Director of non-governmental organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Leila Ahmed Bahaa al-Din, deputy assistant to the Foreign Minister for Human Rights, and Aziza Yussef, head of the Federation for Associations, Solidarity and Social Justice Unions, National Security Investigations, and Federal Monitoring and Public Funds, [in addition to] the report of the fact-finding committee, the statements of the defendants before the investigating judge in establishing these branch offices and receiving funding from organization headquarters in the United States, as well as Germany, and the result of the search and seizure of NGO offices that occurred with the knowledge of the public prosecutor.
Knowing that the criminal law and complimentary penal laws are applied erga omnes, pleas of ignorance cannot be used to deny criminal intent. The Law on Associations and NGOs, 84 of 2002, provides a criminal penalty, and thereby complements the Penal Code. It applies the rules of the Penal Code whereby ignorance does not absolve one of criminal intent. The fact that the accused is unaware that the organization is unlicensed by the government does not deny criminal intent. Ignorance by virtue of the criminal principle itself is not an excuse so long as this criminal principle imposes on one a commitment to vet the organization before approaching it. If one neglects his duty to abide by it, there is no one to blame but himself, as negligence and intent are considered one and the same.
(Note: Translated as reported in Shorouk newspaper on June 5, 2013)
Translation by: Tarek Radwan
Photo: EURONEWS screenshot