Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Before You Give $$$...



I adopted Brees after he was left @ Ace Club in Dec. 2009, abused and with mange
Animal welfare is not even an afterthought in Egypt, but one organization has many believing that it is bringing this issue to the forefront with its so-called charity.

Enter Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA).

ESMA’s website touts that it is “a charitable organization registered in Egypt (No. 3059/2007).” It was formed in late-2007 in “response to a horrific shooting spree of street dogs by the Egyptian government.” Thus, a small group of Egyptians and expats came together to “fight this notion of population control and to protect and rescue animals in immediate danger.” Their exact protection and rescue methods are in question with a recent report released on mistreated horses questioning the organization and stable (please refer to link provided at bottom of page to note the finger-pointing and discrepancies listed as well as comments).

If adequate animal welfare is in question amid donations continuously pouring, you have to eventually ask yourself where the donated items and money is dispersed (many non-profits use most of the funds for “administrative” purposes, ie many times filling the pockets of a select few within the organization).

After my Facebook newsfeed was bombarded with ESMA’s desperate need for donations and rumors began circulating as to where exactly these donations were going, I decided to do some further research. I sent an email directly to Mona Khalil, ESMA founder and board chairman, posing as a potential donor with substantial funds deriving from US contacts.

Prior to contacting Mona, I posted on ESMA’s Facebook page: “Does ESMA keep detailed financial reports of the donations it receives and where the money is allocated in its entirety?”

To which an ESMA member responded: “Yes LeAnne, ESMA keeps receipts and full details of donations. If you would like to review them, you are more than welcome to come visit our accountant at the shelter in Shabramant.”

Immediately after this response, I received a phone call from the ESMA member whom informed me that he had been so busy rescuing animals and was getting tired of the “accusations” regarding ESMA. To which I replied that as a potential donor, I was well within my rights to inquire as to the allocation of funds in order to ensure transparency. I added that the US donors also need clarification in order to obtain the tax write-offs which required documents and since the organization is registered as a non-profit in Egypt backed by a US non-profit, then I knew documentation must be compiled. The ESMA member informed me again that I was welcome to come to the shelter and personally review the records which led me to inquire about electronic documentation. He then assured me that he would send an electronic version of the organization’s 2010 records.

However, I received a very different response after my email to Mona dated October 4 which read:

Hi Mona,

I am inquiring about further information regarding
ESMA for potential donations. I collect funds and items from various friends in the expat community in Cairo as well as friends abroad (mostly the US) for charitable contributions and I'm always looking for new causes to contribute.

In order to determine where the funds/items will be donated, I was wondering if you or someone at
ESMA could provide more information. Since ESMA is a charitable organization, can you please provide me with financial records to show the money received and its allocation? I'm sure you understand, but I must check these facts before giving such sizable donations to ensure transparency as many of my US contributors use this as a tax write-off.

Your earliest response is greatly appreciated.

Debbie Smith, ESMA Treasurer, replied on October 9:

Dear LeAnne,

Mona forwarded your email to me, so that I can respond to your questions. Are you here in Cairo or in the US? Regarding making a tax-deductible donation to ESMA from abroad, we are fiscally sponsored by Animal Diplomacy, which is a registered US 501C3 non-profit organization. There is a link to the
Animal Diplomacy webpage from our site (www.esmaegypt.org), and most donations from the US and other countries outside Egypt are processed in this way through Paypal. I am cc'ing Kristen Stilt on this, who can answer any questions you may have about Animal Diplomacy.

On the other hand, If you or your friends are here in Egypt and want to make a donation, it is easy enough, you can just contact me or Mona to arrange for it to be picked up, or go to the shelter where our bookkeeper is working and drop it off there. In either case, you can specify if there is a specific program (i.e. shelter, horse feeding, etc), animal, or purpose that you want any donations to be applied towards and it will be directed to that purpose. I hope this was helpful, and thank you for your interest in raising money for animal welfare in Egypt.

I immediately responded:

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for your response; however, my initial question remained unanswered. In order to properly contribute, my donors as well as myself need verification as to the money received and its allocation in order to ensure credibility as well as for tax documentation. As far as the funds we raise, we would like to further explore your programs to better attain where the most need is (including amount of animals separated by category).

We require this information from any organization that we’ve worked with, including Egyptian organizations like the Spirit of Giving.

I was instructed to visit the site in order to look over the paperwork, but electronic documentation should be readily available in order to also provide Animal Diplomacy an update, among others.

Please contact me at your earliest as we are getting ready to determine which organization should be the recipient of this year’s donation.

I understand being an animal lover. I happen to be one myself. I, in addition to many of my friends, have also taken in unwanted/abused pets. However, I also have a few pet peeves and one of my biggest has to be so-called charitable organizations that seemingly operate under the guise of “the greater good” yet take contributions without proper documentation of where the money is allocated. If ESMA’s claims of its “commitment to improving animal welfare in Egypt” were true, why are there such obvious discretions from financial statements to vaccination records? What’s even more worrisome is the Animal Diplomacy’s website that has no information available except how to donate and that it supports ESMA. In addition, try doing a search on further information from this US organization and its contact. All you will find is an address (1227 B Central Str, Evanston, Ill. 60201) to send checks, but no phone number, email, foundation information (inception or founders) or even specific tasks in which it operates. In fact, the only other charity it supposedly supports as listed on its site is ESMA.

Is it just me or does this not add up?

Debbie responded to me again:


Thanks for your email and I appreciate your concerns.

I am curious who you are representing when you say my donors, are you asking as an individual, or on behalf of an organization, or a group of people?

Regarding the initial question being unanswered, are you asking for verification of how much money is received and where it is allocated? if you are asking to see our financial records and reports, under Egyptian law and on the advice of our lawyer, we do not provide our financial records to individuals.

However, we are in full compliance with the reporting and auditing requirements of the Ministry of Social Affairs, our fiscal sponsor Animal Diplomacy, and any foundations we have received grants from, and according to our organizational bylaws and governance, and handle all donations of any size and from any source in good faith.

In any case, if you are an American donating here in Egypt to an Egyptian NGO, you will not be eligible for a tax write off with the IRS anyway. I directed you to the site as a way of making a donation through our fiscal sponsor, in the event that you or another US citizen wants to make a tax deductible donation.

If by further exploring our programs, you would like to know about what areas we are active in, and how many animals we are currently responsible for, or discuss what the areas of greatest need are, you could meet with me and/or with Mona Khalil in person if you want. You can also visit the shelter in Sakkara or attend the next scheduled horse feeding at Nezlet Al Samman, or volunteering is also a good way to experience some of what we are doing and meet others who are involved with ESMA one way or another. I think this will give a better idea of the scope of what we are doing and what the needs are.

If ESMA is in compliance with governmental laws, I wonder if the organization was informed about new legislation passed in June that had the Egyptian Minister of Social Solidarity, Dr. Gouda Abdel Khaliq, warning “civil society associations and NGOs against applying for foreign grants” and called direct US funding to Egyptian NGOs a violation of Egyptian sovereignty. Under Egypt’s Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 84 of 2002), civil society organizations are prohibited from receiving funds from abroad without the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity. Violation of this provision of the law is punishable by up to six months imprisonment. Furthermore, how is the organization reporting its figures, particularly the funding received via PayPal?

When posting a comment on ESMA’s page that is anything other than praising their work, instant attacks begin in retaliation. For instance, when someone whom was helping in relocating ESMA-rescued horses inquired about the donated horse gear and its absence, an ESMA member replied: “i suggest you start opening your eyes and looking at what efforts are being made, rather than always bringing us down. Where do your loyalties lie? To the animals like us? If they did I would expect a very different method of communication from your side. Sadly, it seems your communication methods are too political for an organization that does not play this game.” The ESMA person also called via mobile and used such intelligent language as, “You’re a douchebag.” Bravo. This is exactly the type of mentality that makes me a) interested in volunteer opportunities and/or b) donating believing in its cause.

My advice: if you were thinking of donating to an animal rescue organization in Egypt, look elsewhere like the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends (ESAF) as ESMA raises (or should at least) too many red flags. And to any ESMA member reading this, if you would like to justify these claims then provide the financial documents – it’s not hard unless you’re hiding something. However, based upon your previous actions, I would assume that you question my affinity for animals. Just because I question your transparency does not mean that I love animals less than any of your volunteers.

For those ESMA volunteers that do genuinely care about animals, I sincerely applaud your efforts; however, the organization in its entirety should be more transparent so as to ensure its donors that their contributions are being placed in good hands and for a good cause.

I adopted Layla in 2004 from Tucson Animal Control


Further reading:

Remember, there are three sides to every story: hers, his and the truth. Look at these two reports and make your own judgment. The issue more than likely falls on both ESMA and the stable, but finger-pointing is not a solution. Instead, I would like to encourage both parties, in order to avoid another similar incident in the future, to work on a compromise behind closed doors that places the animals at the top of their agendas – not a he said/she said public sparring.

By ESMA ‘Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals’ on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 12:50 am (Cairo time)

After this report was published PFK posted a response on its FB page which I will not repost here because it’s lengthy, but suggest you visit its page and look for the report dated October 17 (Monday) at 11:21 pm.

Further response to allegations posed by ESMA member:
By Prince Fluffy Kareem on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 12:38pm

And with all the finger pointing, does no one question where the money is going? Just like with any potential donation, please make sure to research the charity and ask pertinent questions. Any evasive responses should immediately trigger a red flag. For those of us living in Egypt, many times we want to give because we feel much more fortunate. Give give give, but give wisely (and I strongly urge you to donate other items including time before so readily giving money).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Facebook Fuels Ignorance, Hatred


So now, let’s take it to social media – the catalyst behind the revolution. Egyptians were the first among the ‘Arab Spring’ nations to utilize social media as a platform for political change with blogger Wael Abbas accredited for its onset. As a journalist, I use Facebook for a variety of reasons – not just for personal contacts but to also monitor the banter for situations such as this. Here are a few excerpts from my newsfeed to give you a better insight as to what others on the ground in Egypt are saying as well as to highlight what happens when people take to the internet to post rhetoric without looking up any facts to substantiate their argument(s).

*Please note that all names are withheld for privacy purposes*
**Excerpts were not edited and remember, for many, English was not their first language**

“My only advice to the Egyptian army today. SHOOT TO KILL. These people are not protesters, they are barbarians and hooligans. The country and world could use a few thousand less of them.”

This person was reamed with 90 comments coming back protesting this statement. Then the same person began to justify this statement with unverified and untrue figures:

“It's a protest because of a church incident in Komombo. I don't understand why they would attack the army in Cairo! 3 army officers dead, 400 injured, 30 of which are in ICU...

This was posted around 8 pm local time, at which time reports varied with 19 deaths total, including two to six military personnel, and 150 injured. When the person was asked to support these numbers, the response was: “will find you a link one second.” I’m still waiting for that link…

Once the original poster continued to get an earful from those considering the words inhumane and insensitive, the person did the typical Egyptian move and backpeddled.

“Wow...I can't believe you took this status seriously...read the two [statuses] above it

The next two status updates to combat the initial outburst were (shortened rant):

“It is so simple to take someones sarcasm and words and process your understanding of what their beliefs are. I do not and will never encourage mass shooting by anyone, specially not the army which is OBVIOUSLY more powerful by numbers and force.

I am sorry if my status offended you, and I retract it immediately as it was sarcastic in regards to 'touchy topics'...but for future reference, don't be so quick to judge someone, and try and see both sides of a story. THE ARMY ARE PEOPLE TOO. THEY HAVE FAMILIES!!!!!

Yet, I failed to see the both sides present in the argument. Coincidentally enough, the next status all of the sudden, undoubtedly expecting to gain sympathy and forgiveness for the first uncouth rant:

“UPDATE for all the people who stood against me defending the army today...My moms car just got attacked by a group of "protesters" on her way home from work (in Tahrir).

The next poster grew up in the UK mostly and splits time between Egypt and the UK, but is Egyptian and Muslim.

“My heart goes out to all that were shot, killed or injured today for standing up for Justice, Love 'n Unity and an END to the INJUSTICES towards the 'I'riginal Orthodox Coptic peoples of Egypt ..

Response:

“u see first and talk smart instead of spreading western propaganda. U r not even in egypt so dont talk about Egypt”

This person continued to post against the original poster:

“u r lebanese and u r more attached to the american culture than ur own culture. And u r doing music which is not egyptian. U r more ethiopian than egyptian...

How American culture got involved when the person has never spent any time in the US is beyond me. And someone else’s response to the original post (which I will shorten since Egyptians tend to ramble):

“let's say that the Aswan villagers who really burnt da church ok ... nd sure there are many videos showin how small the burnt buildin was nd sure u can find it in utube or i can send it to u .. nd no matter how big or small is it ... no matter if da villagerz or sum ppl did it on purpose ... is burnin a buildin worth killin one human being ? but da orthdox church leaderz made a public threats thru da media nd thru utube nd i can send ya da video if u want ... the orthdox pops learderz said exactly : the governer of Aswan is a liar nd i can beat him wit my shoes nd this governer will die in 2 dayz in a bloody way nd if da leader of da military council didn't respond to our demands , he knows wut's gon happen to him ) this is wut they said.”

He failed to post the YouTube videos and/or links. See the pattern?

And to be fair, here’s a view from a Coptic Christian’s page (note when I brought this person food after the revolution, he was too busy to be present to collect the items and was instead in Tahrir Square – long before the church attacks. He sent someone to pick it up, never said thank you and only asked for more):

“the Egyptian army crushed the Christian by its tanks and cars in Masbiro in Tahrir square

Responses:

“I think the army is the victim, the protestors attacked the army. Most of the killed people are from the army.” (Not true about the majority of deaths being military)

His reply:

“Really, please see the pic in the news and the videos how the army crush the Christine, and don’t follow the Egyptian TV” (failed to provide links)

He then posted a gruesome picture which I will not add here from another friend (no source cited) saying,the army killed more Christians every day

He continues with various statements compiled below:

“I am so confused and can't thinks my mind is paralyzed ,what is happening for the church in Egypt which is Coptic from the beginning. If you,Marshal are Traitor , God is faithful, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

"the army use the same way of killing the Christian like Moubark's system"

I’ve only taken a few pertinent examples to demonstrate the negative repercussions of the internet. Social media can be a useful tool, but just like everything else, when used by ignorant people, it can be a very negative facilitator spreading unfounded and ill-conceived rhetoric. 

Letters from Egypt: Christians under Attack

Source: Algomaz
Sectarian tensions continue to mount in Egypt with events taking a turn for the worse on October 9. Coptic Christians gathered outside the state television building near Tahrir Square to protest an attack on a church in Aswan last week. Reports say that demonstrations, which began peacefully with a march and a sit-in, were interrupted by plain clothed men pelting the protestors with rocks and other items. Chaos broke out with the current death toll at 24 (including military personnel) and over 200 wounded.

This is significant for two reasons:
  • It is the first time the military has opened fire on demonstrators
  • The protestors were mostly Christian
I will readily admit that I have wondered when the military was going to finally crack down on Tahrir’s continuation of destruction; however, I have to wonder why the military had not, up until this point, used any force (live ammunition) to dispel protestors that were wreaking havoc. I find it a bit coincidental that a protest carried out by Coptic Christians would later be infiltrated by plain clothed men inciting violence. Sounds a bit like the pro-Mubarak supporters that stormed Tahrir Square on camels that fateful Wednesday during the revolution.

Some of you may want to side with the Christians thinking that they are victims. The Christian population makes up around 10% of Egypt’s total population and a great deal of injustices do occur just like any minority throughout the world. However, I want to also play devil’s advocate to let you know that extremism exists everywhere and there are many fundamentalists in the Coptic community in Egypt just like Islamists/Salafis. Extremism should never be considered a positive term and neither religious text condone such actions.

So the main question to ask is: who is behind these attacks? Is it Islamists/Salafis trying to incite riots between the people and military or government officials using it as a distraction mechanism? I can’t answer that and nor do I have an idea as to which is a more probable. There are other reports surfacing that the military has been using torture techniques against civilians, but tell me, what military doesn’t use extraction or suppression methods?

Dear Egypt, you wanted the military and now you have a ruling military junta. You continue to protest although it seems disorganized to say the least without a clear direction as to what you want. Everyone is too busy yelling over his neighbor instead of creating one voice. You judge people for their religion instead of who they are as an individual. Many blame foreigners for their strife, but really everyone is trying to place the blame on anyone other than themselves. First it was Mubarak, then it was the Interior Ministry, then it was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Field Marshal Tantawi, then came Israel, then came all Westerners, then back to Tantawi. And in the blame game, not once have the majority of Egyptians looked within to see that maybe the problem is an internal one, not external. Again, you can change the ruling party all you want but until the people change, nothing will ever be the same.