The Middle East Channel

An Egyptian court sentences NGO workers

An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted 43 foreign and Egyptian employees of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest in Egypt. The Cairo court sentenced at least 15 U.S. citizens in absentia to five years in prison, and another American, who remained in Egypt to stand trial, to two years in ...

AFP/Getty Images/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA
AFP/Getty Images/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted 43 foreign and Egyptian employees of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest in Egypt. The Cairo court sentenced at least 15 U.S. citizens in absentia to five years in prison, and another American, who remained in Egypt to stand trial, to two years in jail. Judge Makram Awad additionally ordered the closure and seizure of assets of several U.S. NGOs, including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House. The case began in 2012, while Egypt was under military rule following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian police raided offices of several foreign and Egyptian NGOs, and arrested dozens of workers. Most of the foreign workers were eventually released to return to their home countries. The case strained relations between Egypt and the United States, which threatened to withhold assistance. There has been no comment yet from the Obama administration on Tuesday's ruling. Last week, New York-based Human Rights Watch, along with 40 Egyptian rights groups, reported that a draft law proposed by President Mohamed Morsi would allow the government to control the activities and funding of nonprofit groups. The bill is currently under debate by Egypt's interim legislature.

Syria

A panel of U.N. human rights investigators released on report on Tuesday saying the Syrian conflict "has reached new levels of brutality" and that they had reason to believe that chemical weapons have been used in fighting. The report cited war crimes committed by all parties, however more so by the Syrian government. It said government forces and pro-government militias have committed murder, torture, and rape, while rebel forces and foreign fighters have murdered civilians, captured soldiers, often holding "show trials," and committed mass executions. Additionally, the panel stated it had "reasonable grounds" to believe that limited amounts of chemical weapons have been used in the conflict in at least four attacks. However it was not able to determine who used the weapons, or which chemical agents have been used. The panel called for a team of investigators appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, which has been waiting for access, to be allowed to enter Syria to investigate thoroughly the alleged attacks.

An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted 43 foreign and Egyptian employees of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest in Egypt. The Cairo court sentenced at least 15 U.S. citizens in absentia to five years in prison, and another American, who remained in Egypt to stand trial, to two years in jail. Judge Makram Awad additionally ordered the closure and seizure of assets of several U.S. NGOs, including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House. The case began in 2012, while Egypt was under military rule following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian police raided offices of several foreign and Egyptian NGOs, and arrested dozens of workers. Most of the foreign workers were eventually released to return to their home countries. The case strained relations between Egypt and the United States, which threatened to withhold assistance. There has been no comment yet from the Obama administration on Tuesday’s ruling. Last week, New York-based Human Rights Watch, along with 40 Egyptian rights groups, reported that a draft law proposed by President Mohamed Morsi would allow the government to control the activities and funding of nonprofit groups. The bill is currently under debate by Egypt’s interim legislature.

Syria

A panel of U.N. human rights investigators released on report on Tuesday saying the Syrian conflict "has reached new levels of brutality" and that they had reason to believe that chemical weapons have been used in fighting. The report cited war crimes committed by all parties, however more so by the Syrian government. It said government forces and pro-government militias have committed murder, torture, and rape, while rebel forces and foreign fighters have murdered civilians, captured soldiers, often holding "show trials," and committed mass executions. Additionally, the panel stated it had "reasonable grounds" to believe that limited amounts of chemical weapons have been used in the conflict in at least four attacks. However it was not able to determine who used the weapons, or which chemical agents have been used. The panel called for a team of investigators appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, which has been waiting for access, to be allowed to enter Syria to investigate thoroughly the alleged attacks.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

Keep Calm, Erdogan: Why the Prime Minister Has Nothing to Fear (Steven A. Cook, Council on Foreign Relations)

"When Recep Tayyip Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul in the mid-1990s, he did what successful big city mayors do — he made life a little easier for the millions of residents of his beautiful, maddening megalopolis. Erdogan cleaned up the garbage in the streets, unknotted traffic, and literally cleared the air by introducing environmentally friendlier public transportation. Always one for grand ambitions, during his tenure at City Hall the future prime minister made a now often repeated statement to a journalist from the daily Cumhuriyet, "Democracy," he declared, "is like a tram. You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off."

These stories go a long way toward explaining the demonstrations against Turkey’s prime minister over the past several days. Erdogan, who hails from a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Istanbul, has both an innate sense of what makes average Turks tick and an oddly instrumental view of democracy. He never indicated the "destination" toward which he thought Turkey’s democracy should be headed. But 15 years later, many Turks have drawn the conclusion that Erdogan had always intended to step off the tram as soon he had accumulated unrivaled power.

…Still, Turkey is decidedly split. Erdogan governs one half the country — his supporters — and intimidates the other. His political lineage and personal background have instilled within him a certain amount of paranoia. Turkey’s Islamists, no matter how powerful they become, are always on the lookout for the next coup or round of repression. (In 1998, for example, Erdogan was jailed for reciting a poem that was allegedly a call to holy war against the Turkish state even though the author is one of the most important theorists in Turkish nationalist pantheon.) For the rising new political and business class that Erdogan represents, correcting the past wrongs of the Kemalist elite — which discriminated and repressed the two bogeymen of the Turkish politics, Kurds and Islamists — has been a priority. They have worked to accomplish it through both democratic and (more often recently) non-democratic means. The problem for Erdogan is that, despite his best efforts, the tram that he referred to when he was mayor of Istanbul stopped in Taksim Square, where a lot of Turks are signaling they will no longer tolerate his authoritarian turn."

Algeria: has the post-Bouteflika era already begun? (Hicham Yezza, OpenDemocracy)

"For the past six weeks, the biggest country in Africa (and the Arab World) has been running without its president. On the afternoon of April 27, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in charge since 1999, was taken ill with what the official media described as a minor stroke, and immediately flown out of the country to receive medical treatment at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris. Within minutes, both the APS official news agency and national TV channels confirmed the news. The Wikipedia entry for accident isc
hémique transitoire
(AIT,) suddenly became the subject of intense deciphering by the media and members of the public alike.

The initial reaction to the news could be best described as cautious scepticism. For a start, that news of presidential health issues were broadcast by official outlets – in a country where official secrecy is the default modus operandi – struck many as surprising. Some even ventured the rather ungenerous speculation that this was a highly choreographed move by the presidential camp, intended to stoke up sympathy in the run-up to an announcement of a fourth consecutive bid at next year’s presidential elections.

Moreover, the episode has also revived the debate over the government’s record, notably in terms of public health provision. Within days of Bouteflika’s arrival at Val-de-Grâce, protests were held outside the hospital denouncing the two-tier nature of health access back home. Why is it, some of the protesters asked, that the elite pays lip service to a national health service it never uses? Such questions remain deeply resonant in a country where access to free universal healthcare is being slowly eroded, to the apparent indifference of those at the top."

–By Jennifer T. Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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