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.