The Cairo Criminal Court on Sunday adjourned the sixth session in the trial of 43 foreign and Egyptian NGO workers until 2 October, when testimony from defense witnesses will be heard. The defendants are accused of illegally receiving foreign funding and operating in Egypt without permission from the authorities.
Fayza Abouelnaga, the former planning and international cooperation minister who instigated this case, was one of the high-profile prosecution witnesses giving testimony. According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, she said that the NGOs in question threatened national security through their activities and trained youths in demonstrating, insulting police and attacking state institutions.
Among the accused are 19 American citizens, 14 Egyptians and 10 other non-Egyptian nationals.Security forces raided the NGO offices in December 2011, confiscating material and straining diplomatic ties with the US, putting American aid money to Egypt at stake.
Following the diplomatic row, the travel ban imposed on the NGO workers was lifted in late February, after which most foreign nationals that were accused left the country. The ruling sparked controversy and prompted judges to question the independence of the Egyptian judiciary from pressure exerted by the US government and the then-ruling military council.
In Sunday’s and previous court sessions, most foreign nationals were absent. Earlier, the trial was adjourned to give defense attorneys the chance to investigate confiscated material. The last session, held on 5 July, was abruptly adjourned after one witness testified.
Sherif Mansour, one of the accused US citizens who left after the travel ban was lifted, returned in June to stand trial and attended Sunday’s court session.
“It is evident that it is a flawed case, because none of the witnesses could come up with evidence when asked by the lawyers,” he said. He quoted Abouelnaga as saying her evidence was her “analytical review of the situation in Egypt.”
Gasser Abdel Raziq, a lawyer for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, called the case’s context “disturbing.”
“There are political forces who are trying to preserve Mubarak-era laws dating from 2002 in forming legislation around NGOs,” he said.
These laws, he added, require approval from seven government institutions, among them the security apparatus, to grant NGOs a legal status.
“It is not right to let these institutions determine the fate of civil society organizations,because the Interior Ministry or the General Intelligence Services can easily object on the basis of national security.”