As Egypt cracks down on freedom of expression one women speaks out

Natasha Tynes – WNN SOAPBOX

Young woman holds up mobile phone as she takes pictures during protests in Cairo, Egypt
A young Egyptian woman holds up a yellow mobile phone to use her camera to document events during a February 6, 2011 protest in Cairo. At the height of last year’s public protests, a different anonymous female activist in Cairo stated the following: “We use Facebook to schedule our protests, Twitter to coordinate, and Youtube to tell the world.” Image: Joseph Hill

(WNN/CGN) Washington, D.C., UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: It’s not easy being a convicted felon. The fact that if I ever step foot in Egypt, or visit any of the countries with which it has extradition treaties (a long list by the way), I might be shoved in prison for five years is daunting, to say the least.

What was my crime? Teaching Egyptian journalists and citizen journalists how to use social media as part of my job as a program director for the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), a non-profit organization (NGO) that focuses on media development around the world.

Most of my work was done remotely from my office in Washington, D.C. with a couple of visits to Egypt. Politics was never on our training agenda and “political destabilization” was never anything we preached.

I heard about the news of both my indictment and my conviction from Twitter, ironically the same tool that topped our training agenda in Egypt.

On both occasions, I was in the suburbs of D.C. and nowhere near Egypt. Contrary to what the Egyptian media reported, I never “fled” the county when the news of the indictment was first announced.

How this verdict will affect my future job opportunities is also something to worry about. Not only will my mobility be limited, but also my ability to provide for my two children. A really, really bad situation, if you ask me.

I’m not the only one in this predicament. On 4 June, 2013 the Egyptian judiciary convicted 43 NGO workers, including Egyptian staff, and sentenced us to one to five years in prison for “working illegally” and “accepting foreign funding.” I, along with all the other “fugitives” who were tried in absentia, got the toughest sentence of five years.

The whole situation is beyond absurd. The sense of desperation and injustice is so overwhelming that it’s hard to focus on anything else.

Staying hopeful about a better post-Arab Spring era is understandably difficult. As an Arab-American, I have always thought I could be a bridge between two cultures, but this verdict came as a smack in the face and left me paralyzed. Sadly, at this stage of my life, I don’t see myself as a bridge but as a roadblock.

Putting aside the grand political implications, the sad fact of the matter is that the impact of this decision by the Egyptian judiciary system not only affects the 43 convicted individuals, but will also have a drastic effect on societal advancement in the country dubbed in Arabic “the mother of the world.”

How many “foreign” NGO workers will dare to visit Egypt now? Few, I would imagine. Only the risk-takers and the strong-hearted. Cultural isolation might be indeed in the future of the new Egypt.

Foreign NGO workers not only bring their skills and culture with them, but they often also embrace the culture of their hosts. It’s a symbiotic relationship that shouldn’t be jeopardized.

Stopping American NGOs from establishing a presence in Egypt deprives both countries of the exchange of skills and ideas, and also minimizes any efforts to break stereotypes and understand each other.

At present, there is nothing I can do to alleviate my predicament but vent, and while doing so I will try to raise awareness of this case that will impact more than just the 43 individuals involved.

I would like to call on the Egyptian judiciary system to reconsider its position regarding this case. Not because the verdict is unjust and will ruin the livelihood of scores of people, breaking up families of the Egyptians who were charged and chose to be in exile, but for the sake of a country that had always been seen as larger than life, a country that embraced everyone.

As for me, I hope that I won’t lose myself while trying to block this whole quandary out, and that I can continue to see myself as a bridge between these two cultures.

I hate to see myself turn into a suburban Arab-American who has lost hope in the region of my birth. I pray that regardless of this conviction, I can still somehow, and against all odds, remain positive about a better outcome of this life-altering experience.


Natasha Tynes is a Jordanian-American media professional based in Washington, DC.


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