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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.

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 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.

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

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.

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

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 CommonGroundNews.org.

The views expressed in this Voices post are the author’s own and are not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you have an opinion on this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. And, if you would like to share your own reflections on events or issues about or relevant to the Middle East, we would be glad to consider them for publication. Please email us through our Contact page with a short proposal for a Voices post or send us a link to an existing post already published on your personal blog.

Natasha Tynes

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

6 Comments

  1. Sidharth Nair

    June 18, 2013

    It is sad for a nation in these times to be this backward.

    Reply
  2. Glenn Skelton

    June 17, 2013

    Egypt chose Sharia, the Muslim Brotherhood, the dictatorship of the Muslim Sunni Mullahs, jail for those insulting Islam enforced strictly defined vaguely, jail for NGO even nonprofits, and possible death for leaving Islam. The choice was Constitutional Democracy and civil equal rights. Only where freedom and education have no value would 80% of the populace choose that. See Pew Polls on ME popular views of Islam and Sharia.

    Reply
  3. Glenn Skelton

    June 17, 2013

    Egypt chose Sharia, the Muslim Brotherhood, the dictatorship of the Muslim Sunni Mullahs, jail for those insulting Islam enforced strictly defined vaguely, jail for NGO even nonprofits, and possible death for leaving Islam. The choice was Constitutional Democracy and civil equal rights. Only where freedom and education have no value would 80% of the populace choose that. See Pew Polls on ME popular views of Islam and Sharia.

    Reply
    • Wilf Tarquin

      June 17, 2013

      All true, but these are the first fledgling steps of a new democracy, not the end point. The processes, the cultural change, which led to the arab spring are still operating. Every rock band started, every egyptian going on the net, every girl going to school, every woman working, is another nail in the authoritarian conservative-islam coffin. A hundred years ago a western woman could be fined for showing her thighs in public, and was not allowed to vote.
      It's a messy, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process, but time is on our side, not the side of the clerics.

      Reply
  4. Ka

    June 14, 2013

    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.

    Reply
  5. James Hyder

    June 14, 2013

    Bottom line is men are still in charge overall and they still feel women have but one function.

    Reply

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