NGO workers are seen kept under guard in a cage during the opening of their trial in Cairo March 8, 2012. (Reuters)

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 into 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.

voices post VOICES: Egypt   Convicted for Trying to Help Build a DemocracyI 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 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.” – Natasha Tynes

I’m not the only one in this predicament. On June 4, 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.

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Friends of Egyptian defendants react as they listen to the judge's verdict during court proceedings against NGO workers, Cairo, June 4, 2013. (Reuters)

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.

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Egyptian soldiers stand guard as government agents raid an NGO office in Cairo December 29, 2011. (AP)

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.

This post was originally published under a similar headline on

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 VOICES: Egypt   Convicted for Trying to Help Build a Democracy

Natasha Tynes

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

  • Ka

    My imagination can only hint at the despair you must feel. I celebrate your courage. Please stay true and strong. Your voice, and voices like yours make more of a difference than you can ever know. Thank-you.