Washington, DC – Lorne W. Craner, President of IRI, testified today before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, chaired by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

In his testimony, Craner compared the democratic transition of Egypt, which can only be described as a “mess” and appears to be headed in the wrong direction, to Tunisia’s, which “we should be modestly optimistic about.”

While Craner noted that democratic transitions can take decades, he highlighted a number of issues that raise serious concern, including the verdicts in the trial against IRI, National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House, International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and the draft law restricting the work of civil society.  In discussing these issues Craner stated, “Both the new NGO [nongovernmental organization] law under discussion and, tangentially, our case and the issue of international NGOs working in Egypt, constitute negative milestones in the country’s course of transition that should not be overlooked.”

Craner went on to note the “Return of the types of strictures on freedom of expression witnessed under the Mubarak regime” that present an “alarming picture in Egypt.”  Specifically Craner stated, “The Morsi government is taking the same narrow, restrictive approach to civil society as the former regime.”

Craner then discussed the history of Egypt’s crackdown on IRI, NDI, Freedom House, ICFJ and Konrad Adenauer, reminding the subcommittee that the harassment began under the Mubarak regime and was led by Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga.  “A long-time Mubarak appointee, Aboul Naga had pursued a strategy of demonizing our respective organizations based on her narrow parochial interests to control U.S. foreign assistance funding and to have it channeled through her ministry.”

He went on to highlight the “circus-like atmosphere” of the trial and “unsubstantiated and politically charged attacks, suggesting that they [the defendants] were subversives attempting to undermine Egyptian national security.” 

In closing, Craner said, “The direction Egypt is headed under the Morsi government cannot be isolated from the recent NGO trial ruling.  Our organization, along with others in this hearing, have attempted to promote universal values for democratic development in the new NGO draft law and other key factors in Egypt’s political transition.  But, in fact, the current verdict on our respective organizations is occurring within a broader dynamic in Egypt’s transition.  The judges’ ordered closure of our respective organizations in Egypt represents a serious blow to the fundamental notion of a vibrant civil society.  It is a parallel issue to the current draft NGO law, and both are milestones that will help determine whether Egypt heads in the right direction versus towards a new authoritarianism dominated by the Morsi government.”

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