“You don’t walk away from your colleagues…”
In Egypt, American NGO workers head to court in civil society trial. Two Americans and a German returned to Egypt to face trial with Egyptian colleagues and draw attention to an NGO case they say has major implications for Egypt’s democratic transition.
… One had stayed behind when the US paid millions of dollars in bail to spirit six other Americans out of the country on a private jet. The other, an Egyptian-American, was in the US when the charges were announced, but returned to Egypt voluntarily Sunday to stand trial. Both have thrown a wrench into the US government’s plan to extricate itself from what had become the biggest crisis in US-Egypt relations in decades.
Both men, who could face up to six years in prison, said they came back because they think it is important to fight the charges, which they say are false and politically motivated, in part because the outcome of the case could impact the future of civil society in Egypt. And both say they also felt a duty to stand with their Egyptian colleagues on trial, who don’t have the luxury of watching the drama play out from the safety of the US.
“Of the four Egyptians charged from NDI, three of them worked for me. At every turn when I was pressured to leave, I couldn’t stomach it,” says Robert Becker… “You don’t walk away from your colleagues…”
… Becker refused to shelter in the embassy or to board the plane. He has since been laid off from NDI. The native of Washington, DC, is a veteran Democratic political campaign manager. He has managed successful congressional campaigns in the US, and also has worked abroad in places like Indonesia.
Becker worked closely with his Egyptian colleagues, and said he simply could not walk away and leave them to face the trial alone. Many of them are young, and will likely have difficulty finding new jobs after being associated with organizations that are now controversial. Some say they can’t even land an interview for a new job because of the trial… “If they ended up in jail and I was safe in the US, I wouldn’t be able to live with that,” says Becker. He is prepared to face jail time if convicted, but says he has faith that the truth will win out.
He also sees the case as part of a broader crackdown on civil society in Egypt. If the case is lost, “the long-term impact is, citizens are afraid to organize at the community level,” he says. “If that’s the case, then democracy won’t work. If we go down, that’s when the floodgates could open and they all go down…”
… The presence of two Americans, and the German who also returned to face the charges, may change that. It is not what the US wanted. American officials had hoped for a quiet resolution to the trial after the Americans left and the hysteria died down. But Mansour hopes his presence will draw attention to what he says is a flawed US policy of placing security first, preferring the status quo, and “putting their head in the sand.” In March, the US announced it would release $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, despite earlier threats to withhold it if Egypt did not halt the prosecution of the civil society groups…