CAIRO -- An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced to jail 43 nonprofit workers, including 16 Americans, in a case that has alarmed pro-democracy advocates who fear a shrinking space for civil society more than two years after the country's revolution.
The convictions threaten to further strain ties between Egypt's fledgling government and Washington, which has criticized the crackdown on rights workers.
The majority of those convicted Tuesday were given five-year prison terms, but they were tried in absentia, having already left Egypt. They are unlikely to return. Eleven others received a suspended sentence of one year.
(But was not in the court room, yet continues to blog..)
But a handful (allegedly) face the prospect of jail, among them American Robert Becker. The former employee of the National Democratic Institute, or NDI, who stayed in Egypt even after his American co-defendants fled, was given a two-year sentence.
If there was any real chance that Mr Becker was going to be incarcerated he would NOT be in Egypt
Mr. Becker has said he remained out of a sense of solidarity with the Egyptians who were charged.
His whereabouts Tuesday were unknown, but he had written on his blog Monday that he would stay in Egypt for the verdict, which he said ran contrary to his lawyer's advice.
"I was told it would be best for me to go home, so that is exactly where I will be ... home, in Cairo," he wrote.After the verdict, he took to Twitter: Because he is so very worried about being incarcerated, right?
"Maintaining my innocence on charges of starting NGO six years before I actually arrived in Egypt & waiting for appeal strategy." Mr. Becker, who has said he was fired by NDI for his decision to remain in Egypt, had been free to leave the country in the months leading up to the verdict.
Nancy Okail, who directed operations in Egypt for Freedom House and was convicted in absentia Tuesday, called the verdict "the worst that could have happened. The crime that we committed was to work on human rights and democracy." (Destabilization)
The case against the 43 workers has its roots in a December 2011 raid on the Cairo offices of multiple nonprofit organizations, including several prominent U.S.-based groups: the NDI, the International Republican Institute, or IRI, the International Center for Journalists and Freedom House.
Those arrested were accused of illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest -- a dubious charge given that the groups were operating openly and in cooperation with the government.
The destabilizers were operating openly and in cooperation with the government... big surprise.
At the time, Egypt was being run by the military council that filled the void after President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign in February 2011.
The Egyptian military runs Egypt and the US runs the Egyptian military
That sounds so, so damning! But, it isn't.
"This is a message meant to intimidate the NGOs," said Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of al-Kalema Center for Human Rights, a small advocacy organization. "Morsi doesn't want scrutiny of his actions. He doesn't want pressure from all these groups."
It is unclear when, or even whether, the legislation will be taken up for a vote. Egypt's lower house of parliament has been disbanded, and the law governing the remaining upper house was ruled invalid Sunday by the nation's supreme court.
On Tuesday, none of the 43 defendants appeared to be in the Cairo courtroom, where a three-judge panel issued its ruling. Besides announcing the convictions, the judges ordered the shuttering of the local branches of the workers' employers: the IRI, the NDI, Freedom House and Germany's Konrad-Adenauer Foundation.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that the United States was "deeply concerned" by the verdicts and sentences and also described the trial as politically motivated.
"This decision... is incompatible with the transition to democracy," he said.
The NGO's work is done. This trial is pure PR