Europe's Funds Compel Sisi to Terminate Trial of 5 Rights Groups

The timing implications of the European financing deal, alongside billion-dollar agreements, are pertinent to Gaza.

The timing implications of the European financing deal, alongside billion-dollar agreements, are pertinent to Gaza.

2 months ago

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After a 72-hour visit by a high-level European delegation to sign a substantial financing package for the Egyptian regime worth $8 billion, Cairo dropped the case against foreign funding of human rights organizations, which had been ongoing for 13 years, citing "insufficient evidence."

On March 17, 2024, an eminent European delegation led by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, visited Egypt to sign a massive financing package for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's regime spanning three years.

Three days later, a judge from the Ministry of Justice's investigative team decided to close the file on the foreign funding case. The judge accused 85 Egyptian organizations of receiving foreign funding but exempted 5 organizations and 4 rights activists from the charges.

There appears to be a connection between Europe's financing of the Sisi regime and the termination of the investigation into Egyptian human rights activists accused of receiving European funding.

Since 2011, this case has been ongoing, casting a shadow over the heads of five human rights organizations and four prominent Egyptian rights activists, freezing their assets and prohibiting them from traveling without any substantiated charges.

'Jasmine Tea'

With the escalation of corruption and bribery cases among senior officials, Egyptians have coined a satirical expression for those who accept such bribes, referring to them as having "had jasmine tea."

It seems that the Egyptian regime under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has enjoyed a "European jasmine tea" in exchange for securing a massive deal with the European Union.

This deal includes roles for Egypt in protecting Europe from irregular migration and a mysterious role in Gaza, alongside closing the file on "European funding for Egyptian human rights organizations" after the regime itself received similar funding.

Human rights activists confirmed to Al-Estiklal that the decision by the Egyptian investigative judge to close the foreign funding case due to insufficient evidence after 13 years, which resulted in the travel ban and asset freeze for five Egyptian human rights organizations, may have been directly influenced by the European Union.

An unnamed rights activist stated that the decision to suspend the investigation does not rule out being one of the conditions for the funding presented by the European Union to Egypt, evidenced by the closure of the case hours after Egypt received foreign funding.

He pointed out that the European delegation met with Egyptian rights activists who had their investigations suspended, as well as with President Sisi, followed by the Egyptian government's decision, through the investigative judge, to close the file on Case No. 173 of 2011, which accused five human rights organizations, in addition to Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid, and Mohamed Zaree, after 13 years of investigation.

Before closing the case, the Sisi online mobs criticized the meeting between the human rights activist Hossam Bahgat and European officials who visited Egypt to provide financial support to the Sisi regime, only to later discover that the meeting was part of European intervention to pressure Sisi to close the foreign funding file.

Activists ridiculed the Egyptian government for closing the foreign funding case "due to insufficient evidence" just days after the European Union announced providing a package of foreign funding to the Sisi regime, hinting at a scene from an Egyptian movie depicting a corrupt inspector praising a company president because he bribed him.

Journalist Gamal Sultan commented on the Egyptian judiciary's connection to influence and foreign funding, saying, "In our country, there is an authority that fears (foreign influence) and does not care about its people … they work per instructions from the security apparatus offices via mobile phone."

It was also noteworthy that alongside the closure of the foreign funding case, Cairo released journalists from Al-Jazeera Mubasher who had been detained for three years, namely Rabie el-Sheikh and Bahaa Nematullah.

Despite their acquittal, the Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative, Hossam Bahgat, demanded an official apology from the Egyptian authorities for the moral and material harm inflicted on the rights activists over 13 years due to this fabricated case and "the amendment of all laws to prevent the recurrence of this farce."

13 Years of Abuse

After 13 years of persecution, on March 20, 2024, the appointed investigating judge from the Cairo Court of Appeal, Ahmed Abdel Aziz Qattan, issued a ruling that "there is no basis for the criminal prosecution due to insufficient evidence" in the case known as the foreign funding case.

The acquittal announced by the judge, 13 years after the case was opened in 2011, included four activists: Hossam Bahgat, the Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative; Gamal Eid, the Director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information; Mohamed Zaree, the Director of the Arab Organization for Penal Reform; and Dr. Aida Seif el-Dawla, the founder of El-Nadeem Center; along with officials from the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies.

The acquittal also encompassed five human rights centers whose funds and premises were confiscated: The Initiative Center for Studies and Consultations, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Arab Penal Reform Organization (APRO), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and the El-Nadeem Center for the Treatment and Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.

The decision included removing the names of those included from the travel ban and asset freeze lists, including Hossam Bahgat, one of those who met with the European delegation during their visit to Egypt to provide funding to the Sisi regime.

With this decision, the number of organizations and associations against which judicial orders have been issued "no basis for criminal prosecution" reached 85, encompassing all organizations and associations investigated in case 173 of 2011.

The foreign funding case dates back to 2011, when some civil society organizations and NGOs were accused of operating without licenses and receiving funding from abroad without being subject to scrutiny.

It was clear that the case was politically motivated, aimed at striking a blow to Egyptian civil society for its role in creating the atmosphere that led to the January revolution against former President Hosni Mubarak's regime, using the judiciary to do so.

Over the course of 13 years, the Ministry of Justice, through the appointed investigating judge, continued to issue statements regarding the exoneration of organizations from investigation, affirming "no basis for criminal prosecution."

The latest statement came in August 2023, confirming the exoneration of 75 organizations while continuing investigations with only 10 out of the original 85 organizations.

The case, known as Case No. 173 of 2011 or "the case of civil society organizations," surfaced when the Cabinet requested, on July 12, 2011, the Ministry of Justice to form a fact-finding committee specialized in foreign funding received by civil society organizations.

This committee included the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, the Ministry of Social Solidarity, the National Security Agency, the General Intelligence Service, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In December 2011, the police raided the premises of 17 civil society organizations operating in Egypt, detaining several employees and seizing their belongings.

Subsequently, the Public Prosecutor referred 43 employees of these organizations for trial in February 2012, including 27 foreigners, on charges of "receiving funds from abroad with the intent of committing acts harmful to national interests or undermining the country's independence or unity, and managing associations without a license."

Although the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced 43 foreign and Egyptian employees of international organizations to between one and five years in prison in June 2014, the foreigners were exempted from imprisonment and allowed to travel after paying bail despite being under indictment.

The court also ordered the closure of the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists, and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

In December 2018, the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted all foreign defendants, leaving only Egyptian activists facing charges.

Why Now? What's the Cost?

It was evident that the closure of these human rights organizations, their exoneration, along with their members after 13 years of "accusation," were related to the visit of the European delegation to Egypt and their provision of funding to the Sisi regime. Ending this case was one of the conditions of the financial deal, among other reasons.

Analysts linked this move to the European Union's support for the Egyptian economy amid fears of regime instability, especially after the deterioration of economic conditions and concerns about a hunger revolution that could lead to chaos and increased migration to Europe.

They asserted that Europeans moved to save the Sisi regime on the one hand and to offer compensation for the service his regime provides, hosting refugees and preventing them from migrating to Europe, in addition to Egypt's role in the blockade of Gaza.

On March 17, 2024, The Guardian accused EU leaders of rewarding repression in Egypt with a financial deal, describing the signed agreement as the price for Europe's attempt to prevent refugees from crossing the Mediterranean.

The newspaper quoted Human Rights Watch as saying the deal would "reward Egypt's autocratic leader."

It said that since Sisi took power in a 2013 coup and became president in 2014, his governments "have ruled Egypt with an iron fist," suppressing opposition, jailing critics, and stifling media and civil society.

"Now this abysmal repression is being rewarded with fresh support from the EU," it said in a statement.

However, Dr. Essam Abdel-Shafy, an Egyptian professor of International Relations, University of Sakarya, Turkiye, speculated that the timing implications of the European financial deal to the Sisi regime alongside agreements worth billions of dollars from Europe, the IMF, and several regional parties are related to the Gaza file.

He pointed out the ramifications of Operation al-Aqsa Flood crisis on Western policies and the need for European countries for the Egyptian regime to play a functional role in managing this crisis.

Abdel-Shafy emphasized that this functional role does not deviate from stripping the issue of its essence through policies of participating in supporting the blockade, displacement, and resettlement.

The regime in Egypt has been performing this role excellently since October 7, 2023, and until today, and its alignment with the file has reached a point where it has become a full-fledged strategic partner in every practice with the Israeli Occupation, according to the Egyptian expert.