The Cairo 19

A look at some of the NGO workers who now find themselves at the center of a diplomatic showdown between Egypt and the United States.

Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images
Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

This week —  just over a month after Egyptian security forces raided the offices of 17 American and local non-governmental organizations and only days after Egyptian authorities banned several American NGO workers from leaving the country —  the Egyptian Justice Ministry stirred the pot once more by releasing the names of 43 individuals charged with operating unlicensed human rights and pro-democracy groups in Egypt and illegally receiving foreign funds.

"These organizations prepare research reports that are sent to the U.S.," explained Judge Ashraf al-Ashmawy, according to Egypt’s Ahram Online. They "provide training to Egyptian political parties and support certain political figures in parliamentary and presidential elections to serve foreign interests." International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abul Naga went further, declaring that the investigation had uncovered "plots aimed at striking at Egypt’s stability." The NGOs, meanwhile, are strongly denying the charges, and Freedom House’s Sherif Mansour — one of the "American-Egyptian fugitives" singled out by the Egyptian Justice Ministry  — even vows today at Foreign Policy to return to Cairo and fight the charges if the Egyptian government pursues legal proceedings.

In response to Egypt’s aggressive actions, U.S. lawmakers, administration officials, and presidential candidates are now warning Cairo that its $1.3 billion in annual aid is at risk. The NGOs "do what American and international NGO workers do in various different parts of the world, which is to support democratic development and civil society," U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told CBS host Charlie Rose on Monday.

The list of indicted NGO workers, which the Egyptian press has published in full, reportedly includes 19 Americans, though there are few details about the cases and the NGOs involved are generally refraining from commenting on specific staff members. Here’s a deeper look at a few the NGO workers who now find themselves at the center of a controversy that threatens a U.S.-Egyptian alliance painstakingly built up over three decades.


Organization: International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)

Position: Vice president for programs

Current location: Washington, D.C.

Bio: According to his ICFJ bio, Butler, a Spanish-speaking former journalist, oversees the organization’s training programs and supervises program personnel. In July, he wrote about a five-day boot camp in Cairo for journalists from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the Palestinian territories as part of a project run by ICFJ and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Here’s how he described the program:

The project began with an online course on using the latest digital tools for public service journalism. Seventy journalists from seven countries, chosen from nearly 400 applicants, took the course. As part of the six-week course, participants proposed an online project that they wanted to pursue with the help of experienced trainers. Participants who were most active in the course and who proposed the most promising project ideas were chosen to get hands-on training in Cairo.

Topics at the boot camp ranged from using social media to shooting and editing photos and video, from computer-assisted reporting to building news websites, and from media ethics to trends in mobile journalism.

When protests reignited in Tahrir Square during the boot camp, many of the participants put their training to use, taking video with their Flipcams, uploading video and photos to the Web, interviewing protesters, and blogging about what they saw….

Alexandria journalist Ahmed Esmat said that the program is especially important for Egyptian journalists in the post-revolution period when the opportunities for media are expanding. He appreciated learning how to support good journalism through better marketing and business practices.

"All we were doing was promoting good journalism," ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan told USA Today, when asked about the two American and two Egyptian ICFJ employees whom Egypt’s Justice Ministry has singled out for prosecution.


Organization: National Democratic Institute (NDI)

Position: Egypt country director

Current location: Cairo

Bio: One of the primary reasons Hughes returned to the National Democratic Institute last spring, the Washington Post reports this week, was to work in post-revolutionary Egypt. Nine months later, she’s been indicted and banned from leaving the country. "We don’t even know what the charges are," Hughes told the Guardian. "I’m trying to stay optimistic but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t stressful on me, the organization, our families. But I’m proud of the individuals working here. We’ll hang in there." She added that NDI was asked to resubmit its registration papers last month and "given verbal indications that our programs were well within Egyptian law." The government had earlier permitted NDI staffers to serve as observers during parliamentary elections.



Organization: Freedom House

Position: Director of Middle East and North Africa programs

Current location: Washington, D.C.

Bio: Dunne, a former U.S. diplomat who served in Cairo for three years and worked with some of the Egyptian generals now running the country, told the Los Angeles Times that he last visited Egypt in October and left in the "good graces" of the authorities, which makes this week’s charges all the more baffling. "What it looks like is they took all the major international groups working in Egypt, fingered all the management-level employees and lumped in the people overseas who are running the programs," he told the Washington Post.

Dunne, who has criticized Egypt’s ruling military council in recent months for cracking down on protesters, extending an emergency law, and imprisoning a blogger, says Freedom House filled out all of its registration papers last year shortly before its offices were raided. "The work that we are trying to do in Egypt is to help them do what they say they want to do, which is have a democratic transition to a civilian government," Dunne told NPR. "And the Egyptian military is doing everything they can to shut that off and shut that down."

In an interview with CBS News, Dunne called the charges against him "completely trumped-up":



Organization: International Republican Institute (IRI)

Position: Egypt country director

Current location: Cairo

Bio: LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, learned that he was caught up in Egypt’s crackdown on NGOs when he was stopped at the airport as he tried to board a flight for Doha. A Chicago Tribune profile of LaHood this week notes that the 36-year-old worked for the State Department in Iraq and John McCain’s presidential campaign before signing up with IRI 18 months ago. The IRI’s Scott Mastic tells the paper that LaHood "laid low" during the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak but then stepped up the group’s work as Egypt held its first free elections in decades. "If we are referred to trial, the trial could last up to a year … and the potential penalty is six months to five years in jail," LaHood recently told NPR, calling the notion that the IRI was behind anti-government protests in Egypt "patently false."

Here’s a CNN phone interview with LaHood in late January, when he first learned that he had been placed on a no-fly list:


Organization: International Center for Journalists

Position: Director of Middle East programs

Current location: Washington, D.C.

Bio: Tynes, a Jordanian-American journalist, appears to have recently left ICFJ, where she managed the organization’s training programs for journalists in the Middle East. Shortly before Mubarak stepped down last February, Tynes noted at the ICFJ’s International Journalists’ Network that Egyptian journalists documenting the historic events were using tools they had learned during ICFJ training — "from writing frequent updates on Twitter to updating their blogs and YouTube channels." During a panel discussion later that month, however, she added that while social media was a powerful tool for holding governments accountable, ICFJ programs emphasized the need for fact-based reporting.

 Twitter: @UriLF

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