The United States should condition its aid to Egypt after the “politically-driven” sentencing of 43 NGO workers, according to US legislators and civil society workers at a subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC on Wednesday.
Chairwoman of the subcommittee Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida said the Egyptian government’s treatment of non-governmental organisations (NGO) was in “direct contradiction with the principles of democracy” and the goals of Egypt’s revolution more than two years ago.
“It is no longer acceptable to send unconditional aid to a regime that persecutes, prosecutes, and convicts those who seek to aid Egyptians seeking freedom and true democracy for all Egypt,” added Ros-Lehtinen, who was also critical of the draft NGO law, submitted by the Egyptian presidency to the Shura Council, saying that the draft would only lead to further restrictions. She warned that it would open the door for similar “sham” trials in the future targeting NGO workers.
Ros-Lehtinen said that no firm action against the verdicts would not only send the message that the US tolerates the assault on democratic values, but that it also would not hold those responsible for the assaults accountable.
“These verdicts are a huge impediment in [the US-Egypt] relationship,” said congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia. “It is very important for those listening to Cairo to understand that the tolerance for this in the US Congress on a bipartisan basis is next to nil.”
The subcommittee heard testimonies from members of civil society, including president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) Lorne Craner, who described Egypt’s transition as a “mess” that was moving in an “ever more negative direction.”
“Regarding the draft NGO law, the Morsi government is taking the same narrow restrictive approach to civil society as the former regime,” added Craner in his testimony.
“Events of the last year involving our organisations and Egypt’s transition more broadly make it difficult to tell whether or not the Egyptian government seeks the same type of partnership we do,” said the IRI head.
Charles Dunne, Freedom House’s director of the Middle East and North Africa, said the “vitriolic” explanation of the verdict from the court demonstrated that there was “no doubt that politics and not the law was what drove and decided this case.”
He recommended that President Mohamed Morsi exercise his powers and issue pardons for those convicted, saying that “we cannot expect to find justice through further legal proceedings.”
“The US government needs to convey a stronger message that we cannot go back to business as usual while the crackdown on Egyptian civil society worsens,” added Dunne, insisting that Egypt’s transition was a “long messy process that requires help from outside, especially for civil society.”
He added that he was hoping a presidential pardon would be issued, but did not have any expectations.
“Today’s Egypt is a complex place with a struggling economy and political infighting at home and abroad. Despite our best intentions, we got caught in the middle,” said Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists.
Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, said that Egypt was experiencing a period in which “independent and vibrant civil society” should be engaged in democratic reforms to face the real problems facing Egyptians.
He criticised the verdict as one that represented Egypt’s isolation and “insular attitude.”
“We have to stay engaged and support those who want to build a democratic country,” he added.