EXILE: Day 43: The Convict
… Perhaps no American has a more personal understanding of this complicated and grim situation than Robert Becker. Not long before the coup, Becker—a former employee of the National Democratic Institute, whose offices were raided by the authorities while the organization was monitoring Egypt’s first parliamentary elections—was convicted and sentenced by an Egyptian court to two years of hard labor. (His crime: operating an illegal NGO and receiving foreign funding.) All the other American NGO workers in the same predicament opted to leave the country after they were charged, but Becker—in a show of solidarity with Egyptian colleagues who were also facing charges—stayed for his trial…
… When I spoke with Becker recently, he seemed as torn as many other observers about which side in Egypt’s current power struggle—the Muslim Brotherhood or the military—represents the greater threat to democracy.
“Ninety-nine out of 100 times I would be against a military coup against a democratically elected government,” he said. “But I cannot defend Morsi, having watched him not even pretend to care about democracy for a year since he was elected.”
This view is, in some ways, informed by Becker’s own experience as a target of prosecution. When he was first charged, Egypt was still being run by a transitional government beholden to the military. But during this period, the Muslim Brotherhood had begun to campaign against foreign NGO workers like Becker. Newspapers affiliated with the political party even portrayed him as a spy.
… he is most concerned about the 15 Egyptians who have been found guilty of the same crimes. Three of those Egyptian NGO workers have left the country and face immediate arrest if they return home. “The U.S. government and the American NGOs involved in this need to make overturning these convictions an absolute priority,” he said. “The future of Egypt’s civil society depends on it.”