Wall Street Journal: Egypt’s Conviction of Democracy Workers Shows the New Egypt is Far Too Much Like the Old

The Old New Egypt
The Wall Street Journal: Asia
By Editorial Board

A Cairo court on Tuesday sentenced 43 democratic activists to up to five years in prison. The charges include operating illegal nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and receiving foreign funds without permission. Egypt’s spiral down continues.

Robert Becker of the National Democratic Institute is the only American citizen who remained in Egypt to face the charges. He and four others were given a two-year sentence. Twenty-seven other foreign employees were sentenced in absentia to five years each, while 11 Egyptians received one-year suspended sentences.

The 43 worked for such nonsubversive outfits as Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Working for unlicensed NGOs is illegal under Egypt’s 2002 Associations Law. The statute, a relic of the Mubarak era, was applied selectively in pre-revolution Egypt, mainly to squelch the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.

Following Mubarak’s ouster, the country’s interim military rulers used the law to investigate foreigners and Egyptians promoting open politics and the rule of law—convenient scapegoats for the violence and unrest that have plagued Egypt since the 2011 uprising. They were charged last year and their organizations were shuttered. The authorities eventually allowed the foreign defendants to leave the country, after posting six-figure bail. Mr. Becker stayed behind in solidarity.

Meanwhile, elections brought Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power—the same Brothers who had been persecuted under the law. The NGO prosecutions were already under way, and the Morsi government does not control the courts. But Mr. Morsi and his government do have a bully pulpit and the power—for instance—to pardon the suspects and loosen the restrictions on civil-society activities. Instead, his government has proposed a new law that is more restrictive than the old one.

The 2011 revolution was supposed to end the repressive climate under Mubarak. This week’s spectacle of men and women in the dock for trying to build a better country shows that the new Egypt is far too much like the old one.

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