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IRI’s Sam LaHood Testifies on Impact of Egypt’s Conviction of NGO Workers; Says Conviction Should Not be Recognized under U.S. Law

July 24, 2014

Washington, DC – In testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, Sam LaHood, who served as the director of the International Republican Institute’s program in Egypt from 2010-2012, talked about the impact Egypt’s politically motivated case against nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and the repercussions the conviction has had on his life in the United States. 

LaHood also highlighted the much more dire plight of Egyptian activists and the three Al Jazeera journalists currently in prison in Egypt.  “I know that my personal hardship pales in comparison to the hardship of others…I never faced the full humiliation of standing in a cage as is the custom for defendants in an Egyptian courtroom, nor did I spend even one day in an overcrowded Egyptian jail cell…It seems ludicrous to think that for working to advance democracy in Egypt, I would be rewarded with a jail term, but look no further than the three journalists from Al Jazeera who are currently serving seven and 10 year jail terms for doing their jobs.”

Although denounced as politically motivated throughout the world and in the United States, the conviction has impacted LaHood and his colleagues’ lives here at home. 

Under Egyptian law, I am a felon; it is unclear whether that applies in the United States, so I need to read the fine print when I apply for a loan or sign a rental agreement, visa or job application.  In applying for life insurance, my broker believed he was obligated to include my conviction in my application…I am still waiting for the Virginia State Board of Elections to tell me whether I am eligible to vote…Every time I fill out an application or questionnaire, I will be on the lookout for the question ‘Have you ever been convicted of a crime?’ and will need to think carefully about my answer.

As a remedy for this legal question mark, LaHood asked the Congress to take action and “statutorily affirm that the convictions of the 43 NGO staff are not recognized under U.S. law and were politically motivated.  This would remove the legal question mark over our heads and the frustration of trying to determine, under 50 separate state jurisdictions, whether the convictions affect our ability to conduct routine everyday business.”

Despite Egypt’s conviction of the NGO workers and its broader crackdown on civil society, demand for IRI’s programs is high, demonstrating a clear desire for continued assistance to support Egyptian civil society as LaHood put it.  “The U.S. government should not downgrade support for Egyptian or international civil society organizations like the ones here today – to do so would abandon our partners in Egypt as well as the values for which the United States stands,” said LaHood.