Is Egypt’s trial of NGOs a setback for democracy?
Al-Monitor, by Tulin Daloglu:
… On Tuesday, October 2, the Cairo Criminal Court will resume, hopefully for the last round of witness testimony. “I have no idea what my schedule is on October 3,” said Robert Becker, one of the two Americans staying in the country fighting the charges, in an interiew to Al-Monitor. “I just want them over. We all want to get our lives back.”
On March 1, when a US military plane took the accused Americans and other foreign nationals away from Egypt, Becker defied the orders of NDI’s Washington, DC bureau to get on the plane. Trusting his innocence of the charges, he made a once-in-a-lifetime decision despite being “scared.” “Two of the four Egyptians charged from NDI worked directly for me,” Becker said. “What kind of a person would say, “I am going off to the US; be safe, best of luck; I hope you don’t get sentenced to six years in prison…”
… At his first appearance before the judge in March, the police asked everyone to line up as lawyers and defendants so that an identification check could be made. The officer thought Becker was standing in the wrong line. “So I handed him my US passport and my handwritten summons to appear,” Becker said. “He looked at it and said, ‘Welcome to Egypt!’”
Since then, he has appeared before the judge eight or nine times. As he does not speak Arabic, he is at a significant disadvantage in terms of understanding what’s being talked about in the courtroom. “In the Egyptian court system, all the defendants in felony trials are held in a mesh cage. So the acoustics are really bad,” he said. “Even my colleagues who do speak Arabic, we can barely hear what the testimony is. So, it is long. It is hot. There is no place to sit. It’s basically 16 people standing in a cage straining to hear what’s going on, wondering if we’re going to be there for two hours or six hours.”
Becker believes that this trial as a whole is a setback for Egypt’s fledgling democracy. “For democracy to work, citizens have to be able to organize and express themselves without fear … It’s a lot of non-governmental organizations around the country that are operating under fear,” he said. “One of the things we’re trying to convey in the country is that we’re an NGO, and it is not a scary word.”
Tulin Daloglu is a journalist and foreign-policy analyst based in Ankara, Turkey. She tweets at @TulinDaloglu