The List

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.

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.

Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

The List

Dissidents to Watch in 2012

Five notable Chinese activists who are pushing the boundaries of dissent ... and on whom China is pushing back.

Name: Ai Weiwei

Profession: Artist, tweeter, professional provocateur

Crime and Punishment: Authorities charged him with "tax evasion," saying that a company registered to his wife owed 2.4 million dollars in taxes, and disappeared him for almost three months starting in April 2011. More likely, authorities disapproved of his campaigning for victims of the Sichuan earthquake, his outspokenness in criticizing China to the foreign press, and the real and proverbial middle finger that appeared throughout his art work. 

In an interview, he explained how he dealt with the isolation:

I realized you need information to stay alive. When there's no information, you're already dead. It's a very, very strong test -- I think more severe than any physical punishment."

Desperate for interaction, Ai began to needle the guards to provoke a response. But they "just sat and stared at me with no expression. They were very young, and clean, and emotionless, like you were not there," he says. With nothing to do, Ai paced back and forth in his cell, covering some 600 miles and losing almost 30 pounds during his 81 days of confinement. "All I wanted was a dictionary, even the simplest one," he says, adding that passing the time was "impossible." "I really wished someone could beat me. Because at least that's human contact. Then you can see some anger. But to dismiss emotion, to be cut off from any reason, or anger, or fear, psychologically that's very threatening."

Reaction: Ai remains a celebrity both inside and outside of China. In November, the Chinese government again ramped up its case for the charges of tax evasion, which Ai fought in a creative, populist manner: He offered netizens the opportunity to lend him money. Hundreds of thousands contributed. Most recently, Ai, who has more than 120,000 followers on Twitter, said that if the site starts censoring tweets, he'll stop tweeting.

Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

Name: Ni Yulan

Profession: Lawyer

Crime and Punishment: Ni advocated for people forcibly evicted from their homes in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. In a cruel irony, her house itself was razed, leaving her and her husband homeless. Repeated torture in prison over the years crippled her. Ni went on trial in December 2011 accused of fraud, falsifying facts to steal property, and causing a disturbance at a hotel. Ni, who was also charged with "provoking trouble," has yet to be sentenced.

Reaction: The Netherlands government awarded the imprisoned Ni the 100,000 euro Human Rights Defender Tulip award on Tuesday, Jan. 31. That same day, police barred Ni's daughter from visiting the Netherlands to collect the prize. The jury's chairwoman said "Economic interests must never be a reason to close our mouths on human rights. We should rather have one Human Rights Tulip Award than one exported tulip to China."

Getty Images

Name: Liu Xiaobo

Profession: Literary critic, professor

Crime and Punishment: Xiaobo is charged with "inciting subversion of state power." The criminal court verdict released after his trial in December 2009 says that "defendant Liu Xiaobo, due to his dissatisfaction with the political and socialist system of our country's people's democratic dictatorship," published articles with titles like "Can It Be that the Chinese People Deserve Only 'Party-Led Democracy?" and "Further Questions about Child Slavery in China's Kilns." He was also one of the lead authors of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for more rights in China.

The verdict went on to detail the "rumors and slanders" in Liu's articles, including: "Since the Communist Party of China took power, generations of CPC dictators have cared most about their own power and least about human life." He is now two years into an 11-year prison sentence.

Reaction: Despite Chinese authorities' slippery behavior in sentencing him on Christmas Day 2009, when many diplomats and journalists stationed in Beijing were away, his arrest still drew widespread attention. But when the Nobel Committee decided to award him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, it was a public relations disaster for the Chinese regime, which called the decision "a blasphemy to the peace prize." Some commentators compared China's reaction to that of Nazi Germany in 1936, which called the award given to German dissident Carl von Ossietzky "preposterous."


Name: Yu Jie

Profession: Writer

Crime and Punishment: Never charged, he drew official ire for his outspokenness and for writing a book entitled Wen Jiabao: China's Greatest Actor, which criticized China's premier for his insincerity. He told a news conference in Washington, D.C.  in January, just weeks after he fled China, that the day before the Nobel ceremony recognizing Liu Xiaobo, he was taken from his home, shoved into a car, taken to an undisclosed location, stripped naked, and kicked and slapped. "Right now, foreigners are awarding Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize, humiliating our party and government. We'll pound you to death to avenge this," Yu said the head security officer told him.

Reaction: Yu described at his D.C. news conference how security forces had also told him, "There are no more than 200 intellectuals in the country who oppose the Communist Party and are influential. If the central authorities think that their rule is facing a crisis, they can capture them all in one night and bury them alive."

The more sarcastic activists of the Chinese Internet seized on this, and "to be buried alive" became an online catch phrase. One online novelist even included the phrase in his Spring Festival greeting: "Happy New Year -- hope you make it onto the bury alive list!"

Yu is now writing another controversial book, this one with the title Hu Jintao: Cold Blooded Tyrant, from the safety of the United States.


Name: Chen Guangcheng

Profession: Legal advocate

Crime and Punishment: Chen, a blind, self-taught activist, defended peasants who were sterilized and forced to have late-term abortions under the one-child policy. He was sentenced to four years and three months in prison in 2006 for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disrupt traffic." Upon release, authorities forced him to remain in a small village in Shandong province, surrounded by plainclothes security officials, who deny him contact with the outside world.

Reaction: Chen's village has become somewhat of a human rights shrine and adventure tourism destination. Actor Christian Bale, in China to promote a film, attempted to visit Chen in December only to be attacked by the security guards. Author Murong Xuecun described  in the Guardian his attempt to visit the village:

"We're here to see a man called Chen Guangcheng. May I ask if he lives here?'

Taken aback by my directness, he paused. Then covertly he leaned in towards me to say, 'Well, there have been some robberies recently here in the village. You know, chickens, cows. So I can't let you in.'

I chuckled: ‘Oh we're not here to steal anything. Don't worry. We're just here to see Chen Guangcheng. We'll leave immediately afterwards.'

His expression turned stern. A few others came out of the house, among them a middle aged man wearing a black corduroy jacket. The man had a mild face but his words were brusque: ‘It's harvest season. All the men are gone. We're afraid of losing things so you can't come in.'"

When Murong insisted, the men attacked him.

Many other Chinese, including a carload of physically disabled men and women, emboldened by Chen's work in defending the disabled, have also attempted to visit Chen's village. Although guards did not attack the disabled citizens, they did try to steal their milk.