Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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NGO Verdict in Cairo, Failure in Washington

by Elliott Abrams
June 4, 2013


Here is what happened in Cairo in the case of 43 NGO workers whose crime was to promote democracy in Egypt:

An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted 43 nonprofit workers, including at least 16 Americans, of illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest in the country and sentenced them to up to five years in prison. Most of the Americans were sentenced in absentia because they had long left the country, including Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He received a five-year jail term….

The verdict, read out by judge Makram Awad, also ordered the closure of the offices and seizure of the assets in Egypt belonging to the U.S. nonprofit groups as well as one German organization for which the defendants worked. These are the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, a center for training journalists, and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

So: Americans convicted, organizations closed, assets seized. And what was the American reaction to this outrageous judgment? We’re “deeply concerned.”

Here is Secretary Kerry’s statement in full:

The United States is deeply concerned by the guilty verdicts and sentences, including the suspended sentences, handed down by an Egyptian court today against 43 NGO representatives in what was a politically-motivated trial. This decision runs contrary to the universal principle of freedom of association and is incompatible with the transition to democracy. Moreover, the decision to close these organizations’ offices and seize their assets contradicts the Government of Egypt’s commitments to support the role of civil society as a fundamental actor in a democracy and contributor to development, especially at this critical stage in the Egyptian people’s democratic transition. Civic groups and international NGOs play a legitimate role in any democracy and are critical to advancing freedoms, supporting universal human rights, giving voice to citizens’ views, and acting as appropriate checks on the government. I urge the Government of Egypt to work with civic groups as they respond to the Egyptian people’s aspirations for democracy as guaranteed in Egypt’s new constitution.


That’s a weak and inadequate statement and it will have little impact in Cairo or anywhere else–except perhaps to encourage other regimes to do the same.

“Deeply concerned?” Why do we not condemn this assault on democracy? Some of the most distinguished American NGOs have had assets seized and personnel sentenced to prison–in absentia, to be sure, except in one case where the individual is in Egypt and is sentenced to two years. Kerry’s message is that we don’t much care: he urges the Egyptian government that just took this step to “work with civic groups!”  That would be laughable–if it were not dangerous for democracy and human rights in Egypt.

Secretary Kerry is compounding previous errors in Egypt by letting the Muslim Brotherhood government know that it will pay no price for this step, and letting Egyptians fighting for democracy know that the United States does not have their back. If we will not even protect Americans who work for human rights and for freedom in Egypt, think what we will do for Egyptians. The apparent answer is, sadly, that we will do nothing except issue a statement saying we are “deeply concerned.”

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by MTaha


    I belong to the second big party in Egypt -al_Nour- which is the main opposition party as well. It is the political arm of the “Salafist Call” organization. In respect to the article, I’d like to inform you that our party -al_Nour- and other parties participated in many activities arranged by those NGOs in particular the National Democratic Institute. Those activities include workshops, seminars, training debates.. Which showed that there was no problem against those NGOs in general. Also, I’d like to bring to your attention that their case was enrolled a long time back even before the presidential election!! So your article did consider ONLY the last chapter of a story that it was not fairly and carefully considered.

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