July 24 2000

by Advocate Jamaluddin Al-Adymee, Sec. Gen. Civil Society Forum
Perhaps a majority of our people working in the civil society institutions ; particularly those concerned with the issues of freedom and human rights, have pursued with keen interest the developments in the case of Dr.Sa’d ul-Deen Ibraheem, Director of Ibn Khaldon Center for Development with the Egyptian Government. Charged with defaming Egypt’s reputation, he was referred to the State Security prosecution in Cairo which ordered his imprisonment for 15 days pending investigations in the charges brought against him. Another identical incident is that until recently the Egyptian Government detained Professor Hafedh Abu Sa’da, Secretary General of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization. He too is facing trial now.
To undergo interrogations or trial is normal legal procedure which is accepted throughout the world ; but here we are confronted with an issue which has taken a dangerous trend. Dr. Ibraheem is being interrogated by the State Security prosecution which usually submits its cases before a State Security court. According to the Emergency Law enacted in Egypt, the Court’s ruling could not be impeached before high-degree courts. This deprives the accused of any judicial guarantee for a just trial. In fact, this type of a law has been introduced in Egypt for trying those charged with terrorism or crimes against the state or the national security. Dr.Ibraheem’s is the first case of its kind against an intellectual, a university doctor, a human rights and national works activist to be handed-over to the State Security prosecution which in turn shall pass it on to the State Security court. It is in the fitness of things that solidarity campaign in favour of Dr. Ibraheem was vigorous. The wave of protests against the humiliation he was subjected to was justified and clear.
The direction in which this case is moving is the real cause of concern for all workers in the national sector or non-governmental organizations in Yemen as well as in all Arab states. If the charges brought against him are dangerous, the action taken against him are no less dangerous. He is accused not only of tarnishing the reputation of Egypt; but also financing his center’s activities through foreign funds. Both charges are not immune from a sinister prejudice, because they have premeditatedly been linked to include civil society institutions, accused of tarnishing the interests of the homeland and becoming a lackey to an outside force implying that these institutions have no message other than harming their societies. Let us discuss this issue objectively.
It is commonly agreed that National works activists, particularly in the area of human rights, should never be weak in the face of such threats if we take into consideration the rising sensivity of human rights issue with the political systems. These activists carry the banner of transformation, development and enlightenment in their societies. In the name of safeguarding the “reputation of the homeland” or “in the interest of the homeland” efforts of intimidation should not be allowed to stall the achievement of these activists. The message of workers in civil societies institutions in general and in human rights institutions in particular should be to safeguard the interests of their countries and to develop their societies without compromising on”the reputation of the homeland” . This objective should not be confined only to these workers as responsibilities are to be shouldered by all citizens. Therefore, we should outright reject tall claims of those who boast that they alone have the duty of safeguarding “the reputation of the country with distinction”. Next comes the foreign funds. Usually, according to the theory of conspiracies which is deeply instilled in the Arab-thinking, foreign funds have been classified into (loyalty to foreign power) and (subjugation). That is how obtaining funds from foreign sources by non-governmental and local organizations comes under legal and judicial hammers in Arab countries despite the provisions laws which allow receiving such a support from overseas including Egypt itself.
In fact the issue of foreign fund was an axial issue at one of the Arab conference on human rights held in the Moroccan capital last year. I submitted a working paper on this subject which was then re-published by the CSF in a booklet titled: “Freedom of Societies”. I did say that lack of finance impedes the development of civil societies institutions mainly because the local private sector does not support these institutions’ programmes, particularly those relevant to human rights. This is because the private sector doubts the credibility of these societies’ programmes and policies. Because foreign funding is essential for these institutions, it is their right to receive un-conditional assistance from any potential source. No legislations should close the doors for any such source as long as it is unconditional, mainly as the international trend is assisting poor countries and developing them through local organizations consequent upon the collapse of confidence in governments and their corrupt programs. So it is far from clear as to what exactly stirs governments’ annoyance towards foreign funds.
Governments ought to ‘acquire immunity’ against this sensitivity or, should give up such feelings as they themselves mostly depend on foreign sources to fund most of their projects. These governments depend on assistance and loans from states, international organizations and known world monetary institutions in order to implement a large part of their service and development plans and programs. They sign agreements for grants and loans some of which are specifically meant for the development of the national sector. All said and done, these governments think that receiving foreign funds by non-governmental organizations makes them (liable for persecution and legal inquiries. These governments impose different type of surveillance checks on foreign funds, ban receipt of such supports and may even label it as a crime whereas the whole issue could be easily tackled by making provisions for a kind of auditing of accounts.
Non-governmental organizations receive more unconditional funds than do the states . On the contrary, states offer reliefs and waste much of resources whenever they sign any agreement for receipt of grants or loans from foreign sources. Everybody knows this, particularly the last ‘economical potions’ prevalent in our country.