House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce called the sentences handed down against nongovernmental organizations (NGO) for democracy promotion “another assault on Egyptian civil society.”
What elevates it to diplomatic crisis is the Egyptian court’s sentencing of Americans involved in democracy promotion through the groups International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Freedom House.
A total of 43 Arabs and Americans were given jail sentences for operating without government approval. Fifteen of the Americans sentenced had left the country and were slapped with five-year prison terms in absentia, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s son.
The Americans who were able to leave did so with a $330,000 “bail” payment made to Egypt by the U.S. government.
Robert Becker, a former NDI employee, stayed behind and was given a two-year prison term today. A German woman with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation also received two years behind bars. Eleven Egyptians got one-year suspended sentences.
There’s been no comment from Washington today on the sentences.
“As if these trials were not bad enough, the Egyptian government is pushing a new law targeting NGOs that will further suffocate civil society,” Royce said. “President Morsi should immediately reverse course and allow for Egyptian domestic and international NGOs to work toward a democratic and secure Egypt.”
On Friday, the State Department issued a statement on the civil society draft law submitted by Morsi to the Shura Council.
“The draft law still imposes significant government controls and restrictions on the activities and funding of civic groups, which appear contrary to the right of freedom of association enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party,” the State Department said. “The United States believes the proposed law is likely to impede Egyptians’ ability to form civic groups that are critical to advancing freedoms, supporting democracy, and acting as appropriate checks on the government.”
Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military aid from the U.S.