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What Do NGO Convictions Say About Democracy In Egypt?


Yesterday in Egypt, 43 pro-democracy NGO workers were convicted by a Cairo court and sentenced to prison. One of them was Sherif Mansour who was given a two-year sentence. He's been a guest on this program several times. Mansour is a naturalized American citizen born in Egypt. He used to work for the pro-democracy nongovernmental organization Freedom House. He worked for Freedom House in Washington and also in Cairo. He now works for the Committee to Protect Journalists, and he joins us from New York. Welcome back to the program.

SHERIF MANSOUR: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

SIEGEL: And it's correct to say you now face a two-year prison sentence.

MANSOUR: Yes, I'm officially a convict now in Egypt.

SIEGEL: As you understand it, the actual crime that you have been convicted of is what?

MANSOUR: Well, the media campaign and the accusation of the government, and even the verdict justification, talks about how we were part of an American conspiracy to occupy and divide Egypt. But the actual charges, legal charges in the court was operating an NGO branch without license and getting funding without approval. And this is very ironic because in the same verdict justification, they don't talk about lack of license. But they talk about only American hegemony and decrying American, you know, interference in Egyptian issues.

And as far as I know, I'm not an American employee, and I'm not an American spy. And not a single evidence was presented that will indict the people on their trial or will it make any connections between them and those fake conspiracy theories.

SIEGEL: Secretary of State Kerry denounced the verdicts and the sentences yesterday as, and I'm quoting, "Incompatible with the transition to democracy." But he didn't go nearly so far as Republican Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, who said: If this decision stands, not a penny more of U.S. taxpayer money should go to the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Cairo. You know how broke Egypt is right now. Would you support that call?

MANSOUR: I personally believe that the U.S. role in this trial has been counterproductive. And I was very disappointed, to be honest, about how the U.S. government have dealt with this case. And I don't rely on them to do a better job.

SIEGEL: But what if you want to attach the threat of no more money? Would that, in fact, be a positive step, or would that further alienate Egyptians from both the United States and any groups that might be friendly to it?

MANSOUR: Well, there is a precedent that happened in 2000 and 2003 with a similar trial that were brought against Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, another civil society activist who was accused of receiving funding without approval. And for three years, he competed in Egyptian system until he reached the court decision and was able to prove himself innocent. And in the process, President Bush at the time suspended additional aid that was supposed to go to Egypt. And many, including myself, thought that was helpful in the case.

SIEGEL: And do you intend to return to Egypt anytime soon?

MANSOUR: We're discussing with lawyer the options for appealing the verdict, and we may be able to appeal without my presence. But the most important thing is that we make sure that we get an appeal as soon as possible and we also avoid having anyone behind bars. And most of the people who were indicted were outside the country when the verdict came out.

SIEGEL: As someone who has worked for several years for the cause of democracy in Egypt - and we should point out not just in these days of the Muslim Brotherhood's government but in the days of the Mubarak government as well. You were quite active in this cause. How confident are you today that a transition to democracy will be completed and will be strong?

MANSOUR: I am still hopeful. And that becomes more of a feeling than a scientific conclusion in any way. I feel that the revolution that we, and others have worked for, have managed to win some support. And that's what gives me hope right now, that even Muslim Brotherhood or the military were not able to silence the people so far.

People in the media and in the NGO community continue to work and operate again in suppression, and that's what lead me to believe that eventually, that will materialize into an established long-term transition to democracy.

SIEGEL: Sherif Mansour, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

MANSOUR: Absolutely. It's my pleasure.

SIEGEL: Mr. Mansour is now with the Committee to Protect Journalists. He's formerly with Freedom House. And for that work, he was convicted yesterday and sentenced to two years in prison by an Egyptian court.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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