Egypt shows the need for NGO activism

It is not a good time for non-profit workers and activists right now.

In Egypt, 43 people working for pro-democracy nonprofits, including 16 foreigners, were charged in February with encouraging unrest in the post-revolutionary country. Because the groups they worked for took money from foreign governments, the activists were imprisoned on claims that they were dangerous spies.

Among these organizations are the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House — respectable groups not known for being dangerous, violent anarchists.

And worse yet, Egypt, after the ousting of dictator Hosni Mubarak, is still not a safe place for prisoners. Torture continues in the country and there are allegations of judicial abuse by both military and civilian tribunals. And even though some activists were released from the country on bail and the initial judges quit the proceedings, the state intends to go forward with the trial against the non-governmental organization workers.

With all those dangers, the idea of going into non-profit work sounds dangerous and scary. But that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. In fact, the NGO crackdown in Egypt shows why these kinds of workers and activists are needed more than ever.

Around the world, nonprofits are hiring people to help others. Activists include teachers, engineers, scientists, political organizers and young people just like us. It’s direct civic engagement — just in another society. If you think you have something to contribute, there is more than likely a nonprofit out there willing to put you to work.

Working for an NGO can make for a bleak life; it might make you question why you got into it.

But that can all be worth it. This is the kind of work that makes the world a better place. The very factors that make non-profit work dangerous make it necessary.

Egypt’s case can’t be generalized. Yes, activists face constant danger in whatever country they’re in, but more than anything else, the NGO crackdown in Egypt is tied to the military aid Egypt’s rulers receive from the United States and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ attempts to control the populace.

In the United States, we speak about freedom and liberty and how we must defend those principles. But the United States’ freedoms are secure compared to many places in the world.

These are places where any form of open expression is silenced on penalty of death. These are places under the iron fist of violent dictators, and places that have just emerged from that grasp. They need help. This isn’t some case of first-world guilt or neocolonialism: It’s the idea that people should help their fellow humans.

If a group can go into another country and provide assistance, be it in the form of organizing aid or monitoring elections to ensure that they’re fair, then that group should be able to participate.

What’s happening in Egypt will likely end soon; the United States and the international community already wore the Supreme Council of Armed Forces down on releasing the foreign activists, and they might be able to free the Egyptian nationals still imprisoned. But in the long term, Egypt, and other countries like it, are rebuilding. Even those doing well still need help.

If we believe in democracy and helping others, we should turn our beliefs into action and offer our assistance.


Nicholas Slayton is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism.