Egyptian-American Returns To Cairo For NGO Trial

Robert Siegel talks with Sherif Mansour, a former senior officer at Washington, D.C.-based group Freedom House. The Egyptian government has accused Mansour and other employees of pro-democracy groups of operating illegally in the country. Mansour, an Egyptian-American, chose to return to Cairo to stand trial.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, an Egyptian-American who is in Cairo to stand trial on charges of illegally receiving foreign funds. You may recall that the U.S. government negotiated an exit from Egypt for Americans who were working for various pro-Democracy groups there and were accused of that offense.

Well, Sherif Mansour, who has been on this program several times over the past year, went back to Egypt despite official U.S. advice not to do so. Until recently he worked for Freedom House. And he now joins from Cairo.

First, welcome to the program once again.

SHERIF MANSOUR: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: And tell us why did you go back to Cairo.

MANSOUR: There are several reasons. One of them is to bring the attention back to the case. I think many people actually thought that the case was closed, but they are still here. They are still appearing to court every time. I think we are leaving them to stand trial on their own and I don't think it's fair. It's not fair for them. It's not fair and good for people who believe in democracy and human rights and consider themselves human rights defenders, like myself.

SIEGEL: Do you think that American pro-democracy workers, and there were some Europeans, as well, I believe, who left Egypt and who's exodus was negotiated by their governments - do you think they abandoned their Egyptian colleagues when they did that?

MANSOUR: I think so. I think that the point about shutting this case through diplomatic means have already passed. There was an opportunity at doing it. And I think the U.S. government perception was it's going to happen on its own and we should be staying away from it. So, they failed in sticking to their promises and their answer is we're not going to do anything about it.

SIEGEL: What happened when you arrived in Egypt?

MANSOUR: I was immediately arrested. I knew that would happen. I was brought to the court in handcuffs and in a police car and the judge - when I stood in front of him, I asked, where's my lawyer, that I should be at least like the every other defendant. And the judge agreed.

SIEGEL: What have you been told about when your trial will take place and how your trial will be conducted?

MANSOUR: The next session is going to be July 4th and, ironically, this is the Independence Day for me now. I'm hoping that's going to be a good sign and we are estimating that maybe end of July, we'll have a verdict.

SIEGEL: Sherif Mansour, explain to us what kind of work was Freedom House, which you used to work for, what was it doing in Egypt?

MANSOUR: We've been doing a lot of democracy and human rights work that includes monitoring the election, advocacy initiative that supports women rights, minorities' rights, legal reform rights. And all that has been going on for six years now. It wasn't until last summer when it was convenient for the Egyptian government to start a crack-down on civil society and we became under pressure for all the human rights violations that they were doing at the revolution, that they felt they need to channel the blame somewhere else.

SIEGEL: For the charges that you face, illegally receiving foreign funds, operating this organization, Freedom House, in Egypt without an official license - what kind of punishment might you receive if you're found guilty?

MANSOUR: If I found guilty, the punishment could go up to six years in prison and fines. I don't think that's possible. I think there was no case against us by all means. I'm confident that we've done good work in Egypt and if our good work is punishable by law, I am willing to serve the sentence.

SIEGEL: Who will decide your guilt - a judge or a jury?

MANSOUR: It's a judge and two assistant judges.

SIEGEL: And do you have confidence in the independence of the judiciary in Egypt?

MANSOUR: I have confidence in the revolution and what it brings, including new voices, independent voices in every single institution, including the judiciary. I think we can find an independent judge that can look on this case with a fair mind.

SIEGEL: Well, Sherif Mansour, thank you very much for talking with us today.

MANSOUR: You are most welcome. Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Sherif Mansour, who worked until recently for Freedom House, is an Egyptian-American. He has returned to Cairo to stand trial with Egyptians who worked for Western pro-democracy groups. They're all accused of illegally receiving foreign funds.

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