The Crisis in Egypt is Not Over

Mar 82012

Dear Friends of ICFJ,

Now that the U.S. employees of the NGOs indicted in Egypt are out of the country, many Americans think the crisis there is over. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The International Center for Journalists has two Egyptian employees facing criminal charges that could land them in jail for five years.

Yehia Ghanem

Today, the Egyptians (and one American who chose not to evacuate) stood in a cage in a Cairo courtroom during a new hearing. One of them was Yehia Ghanem, ICFJ’s project director and a seasoned editor and war correspondent at the state-run newspaper Al Ahram. He was organizing our program for professional and citizen journalists when he was indicted.

All of us at ICFJ feel it is so important to understand how difficult this situation is for the Egyptians who work for U.S. NGOs. For that reason, I want to share with you excerpts from my exchange with Ghanem.

Q) What is the most difficult part of this ordeal?

A) When my 11-year old daughter called me crying over the phone to ask if I had taken a bribe from the U.S. to harm the national security of Egypt. The reason she asked: the investigating judges went public with the indictments without bothering to inform us—the accused—beforehand and at least give us a chance to let our families know before they went to the press. I was in the car on the way to my office when my daughter called me. I hurried home to find my children in a state of shock. I had to swear to them that their father is an honest man who would never betray his values, not to mention his country.

Q) Now that the Americans under indictment are out of Cairo, what is the situation for you and the other Egyptians?

A) I do hope they will not sort out this fictitious case in the same political way it got started. For if they do, many questions will remain hanging over defendants’ heads in the eyes of the public thanks to merciless character assassination campaigns in the media. The best way to end this case is in the court of law, to prove not only the innocence of the wrongly accused, but also to expose how the whole situation was faked—and by whom. Such exposure will be a message for tomorrow's fakers not to be born today.

Q) Many of us were distressed to see you and other Egyptian defendants put in a cage during the first hearing. What was going through your mind then?

A) Anger, pain and defiance are the right words. I got carried away by a variety of thoughts: How many out there deserve to be in the cage instead of me? How many people are at large and enjoying what they usurped from this nation, yet they are out there entertaining themselves by watching me in the cage?

Q) How were the other defendants?

A) I saw a young lady, one of the defendants, crying her eyes out. She asked to hide behind my back—away from the photojournalists flashing their cameras. Then I felt even more angry over those who were forcing a 25-year-old to go through this ordeal.

I asked her: “Did you do anything that they alleged?” She swore to God that she did not. I said: “Then you should not feel ashamed to face the cameras. You should stand tall and face them. You should make them feel ashamed to force you into this cage.” Moments later, her tears dried up and she was standing beside me defying cameras.

Q) You were about to be promoted at Al Ahram. What is your situation there now?

A) I was denied the promotion to chief editor after many colleagues took advantage of this faked case. They launched a campaign against me without giving me the right to respond. Some went as far as to call for banning me from the premises of Al Ahram. I do thank the chairman of the board who refrained from doing so. For now, I still hold the position as deputy chief editor.

Q) A new court date has been set for April 10.

A) Yes, in spite of all this, I am going to trial, standing tall, believing in what I did, and knowing that I am being tried for things that I did not do. I am going to the trial with absolute trust in divine justice, in my country and in Egypt's judicial system. I do believe that Egypt is worthy of any sacrifice, even the soul itself, even if that means being dragged to criminal court on baseless charges. It is such a cheap price for a much better and more beautiful Egypt.

Q) How is your family coping?

A) They are confident of my innocence and my integrity. However, they are suffering intolerable pain because of the fierce campaign waged by media against me. Meantime, I keep telling them that one thing I learned throughout the 18 years that I worked as a war correspondent is endless patience, which has become one of my favorite virtues. Also, I learned from this kind of journalism that you should not be afraid of the sound of a bullet. For as long as you can hear its sound, you know you are still alive. So the louder the noise from bad people, the more certain I am that I am alive and even kicking.

So please, remember that there still are people on the ground, who are fighting for their dignity, respect and livelihood in Egypt.

Best regards,

Joyce Barnathan
International Center for Journalists