The foreign national defendants in the NGO foreign financing case have departed Egypt, leaving an ongoing political crisis behind them, not to mention calls for the establishment of an investigation committee to uncover who was responsible for repealing their travel ban, as well as a barrage of statements deriding the previous comments made by Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri before parliament that “Egypt will not kneel!” Even the Muslim Brotherhood, who enjoy a parliamentary majority in Egypt, have found themselves on the defensive, with regards to the statement issued on 20 February, after US Senator John McCain had praised their position on this case and the NGOs.
The detractors, including some MPs, are saying that the Egyptian government promised that it would not agree to [foreign] dictates and that it would not kneel, but it knelt and indeed prostrated itself, agreeing to [foreign] dictates and conditions. The major issue, and indeed the subject of numerous jokes, is whether “to kneel or not to kneel”, and that el-Ganzouri – in his statement before parliament – did not say precisely what Egypt would refuse to kneel to! It is clear that the focus is on the travel ban being lifted, rather than its implications, and all the indications are that no one is convinced that there was a case to bring to trial in the first place. This can be seen in the fact that this issue was originally considered a criminal case, but it culminated in the pursuit of misdemeanor charges punishable by fines.
The case against the NGOs in Egypt aroused a lot of national and international interest, to the point that the US threatened to cut off its aid. This also influenced Egypt’s negotiations to borrow money from international organizations, and the entire scenario falls under the English proverb of somebody shooting himself in the foot. In other words, all paths led to disaster: pursuing a trial against human rights organizations would give everybody a negative impression about the post-25 January revolution political atmosphere in Egypt, and will not win Cairo any friends, whilst the evidence supporting this case is weak. As for the scenario which ultimately ended Egypt’s crisis with Washington, this has created a new domestic crisis over the issue of outside interference in the judiciary. This ultimately failed to create a positive impression of the manner in which such issues are resolved in Egypt, even if this avoided the worst outcome!
The question that must be asked here is: why did Egypt follow this path in the first place, namely raiding the headquarters of a human rights organization and bringing its members to trial, particularly if any logical analysis of the evidence and facts showed that this would most likely end with this case being abandoned? Is this the result of internal political maneuvering, or shall we say the incitement of public opinion, and attempts by parties to strengthen their political position with nationalist slogans? There is no clear answer to this, although this NGO case is similar to many previous cases seen in Egypt over the past decades, all of which failed to convince anybody. In fact, these cases damaged national interests and put forward a negative image of the country.
Although it would be fair to say that the political atmosphere in Egypt is healthier today than before, the ongoing controversy – whether in parliament or outside, between different political and governmental forces – has a positive aspect. In the past, when similar cases were brought forward, they would pass by unnoticed, whereas today people want to know the truth and hold those responsible to account. However the most important thing is for lessons to be learnt from this with regards to establishing new practices and codifying what is not codified in order to ensure that everybody is under the umbrella of the law, and that the law is not used for political goals which only serve to harm the reputation of the judiciary.
These organizations operated for long years in Egypt without any licenses, and the previous regime turned a blind eye to such practices, and so this was always a sword hanging above their heads. However it is only fair that the operation of such organizations should be legalized and that they should be provided licenses on the grounds that human rights or political action organizations are part of the democratic process. From a legal standpoint, the financing of such organizations must be recorded and transparent; this is something that not only applies to human rights organizations but all political organizations and their sources of funding, whether this is foreign or domestic, in line with what happens in other countries that have adopted political pluralism. In such countries, political figures, groups and organizations who want to stand for election must declare their sources of funding and list of donations.
Only when everybody is organized under the umbrella of the law can we can hold people accountable for breaking it, and nobody can complain.