In a long and distinguished career in Egyptian journalism, Yehia Ghanem has been a foreign correspondent and an editor for Al-Ahram, the country's most respected newspaper. He has written four books, participated in international forums, and in recent years devoted much of his time to the training of younger journalists under a program directed by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). But on June 4, after a protracted trial in which he and several dozen other Egyptians with connections to foreign nonprofit organizations were accused of receiving illegal payments from abroad, Ghanem was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison at hard labor. Fortunately, in anticipation of an acquittal that his lawyers widely expected, Ghanem was in Washington when the verdict was rendered. Now a fugitive, Ghanem is cut off from his family, his livelihood, and with little hope for a return anytime soon unless he is pardoned, which seems unlikely given the vehemence of the judge's ruling in the case.
The ICFJ, based in Washington, conducts training programs in journalism around the world, supported by leading foundations, media companies, individuals, and the State Department. It began operating in Egypt in 2005, in association with universities and local media organizations. Efforts to gain registration of its own dragged on for years, stalled by bureaucracy, but seemed likely to gain momentum with the Arab Spring upheavals of 2010. Ghanem, his Egyptian colleague Islam Shafiq, and three nonresident Americans working with ICFJ planned to expand a program to train professional as well as citizen journalists in anticipation of Egypt's transition to democracy and greater prospects for independent reporting. With advice from their lawyers, ICFJ rented a small office and received a grant of about $900,000 from the State Department to upgrade the training programs under Ghanem's expert leadership. But the plans were abruptly halted in late 2011, when Egyptian security forces launched raids on ICFJ and the offices of three pro-democracy American nonprofits--the International Republican Institute, Freedom House, and the National Democratic Institute--seizing files, computers, and cash. Also implicated was the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.