Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Freedom House’s Cairo office manager Dr. Nancy Aqeel, an Egyptian national who, along with colleagues, is a defendant in the government case against a number of US and Egyptian non-governmental organizations [NGOs], informed Asharq Al-Awsat that this case was based on “procedural irregularities”. She specified the irregularities as being due to foreign-funded civil organizations operating without a license from Egyptian authorities.
Dr. Aqeeel, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo, stressed that the accusations that have been leveled against a number of US and Egyptian NGO’s aims to distort their image, and has nothing to do with the actual charges that have been filed.
“I have been accused of administrating a branch of an international organization without obtaining a license from the Egyptian authorities. So why are there these strange claims being put forward by some media outlets that say that we are accused of espionage, mapping military targets or photographing military installations.” Dr. Aqeel told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“When the case is over, I intend to sue the relevant Egyptian authorities for compensation as a result of the material and psychological damage that I have been subject to as a result of this campaign to distort the truth and issue baseless accusations.” Dr. Aqeel added.
Dr. Aqeel is married with two-year old twins; she received her PhD from a British university in 2009. She is the Cairo office manager of Freedom House, a US-based NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights. The organization was founded in October 1941, and its first honorary chairpersons were former US Republican party presidential nominee Wendell Willkie and former US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Freedom House describes itself as “a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world.”
Dr. Aqeel asserted that she had provided the Egyptian authorities with all the required documentation to obtain a license to open a branch of an international organization in Cairo but she had not received any response. She said “I established the Cairo office in August of 2011, and I was surprised when just months later, on 29 December, Egyptian security forces stormed the headquarters and shut us down.”
As for the affect this case has had on her family and friends, she told Asharq Al-Awsat that “my family and friends are very understanding; my husband supports and encourages me and tells me that yes this is a crisis but it will pass and that everybody knows this case has been politicized.”
She said “despite my husband and family’s support, I sometimes feel guilty that they are paying the price for my life and work choices, and are subject to this campaign of distortion” adding “how they must feel when they see me in the dock?”
Dr. Aqeel revealed that after attaining her PhD in Britain she had spurned numerous job offers to return to Egypt, saying “I initially felt uncertain when they raided the headquarters of the organization and began this legal case, I asked myself about all the job opportunities outside Egypt that I had ignored, however after I have lived through this bitter experience, I am now more committed than ever to working in Egypt and continuing the path I have chosen.”
As for the campaign of distortion that she had been subject to, Dr. Aqeel stressed “this is not the entire issue, for I was also subject to numerous threats during the investigation phase; the investigators threatened me with imprisonment if I told anybody that I was under investigation, and they were extremely angry when I once tweeted that I had a hearing, in addition to the anonymous threatening telephone calls I receive at night.”
She added that she is aware this case had a political dimension, and that in her view, its major objective is to obstruct the work of human rights organizations in Egypt and cut off their sources of funding.
She concluded by saying “our organization, and all foreign organizations that are under investigation, have been working in Egypt for years under the nose of all state political and security apparatus, so how can they have suddenly discovered that our operations is illegal and taking place without the required license? This is despite the fact that we put forward all the required documentation to obtain this license.”