Saturday, May 09, 2009

Has U.S. policy on aid to Egypt changed?

The Wapo editorial criticizes the Obama administration for reducing aid dedicated to the promotion of civil society and political reform. In fact, the U.S. has spent very little to support such activities. If one were to question a U.S. diplomat two, five or seven years ago about how the U.S. is supporting political reform in Egypt, as I have, you would learn that most of the reform activities being supported with U.S. funds are quite anemic, or simply have little to do with substantial reform. Instead, many of the program beneficiaries are business-oriented groups, or other activities that seldom if ever challenge the exisiting authorities. In fact, when I have asked the question my interlocutor usually has to strain to find examples of reform-oriented recipients.

Since 2000, the Mubarak regime has aggressively intimidated and suppressed activists. The repression began with Saad Eddin Ibrahim, once believed immune from attack, and is now understood by NGOs to mean that Egyptian NGOs only take foreign funding at their severe peril.

There were moments when the Bush adminstration push hard for reform, for instance in 2005, but the pushes did not last long. In my view, pulling back was a mistake because Egypt is quite vulnerable to U.S. pressure, but the Bush adminstration was so spooked by the Hamas victory in January 2006 that it played right in authoritarian Egypt's hands.

One hopes that the Obama people will re-evaluate the U.S. relationship with Egypt, but that is not a matter of a few more million for NGOs, but rather a more serious posture insisting on change.

What Will Unconditional Aid Buy From Egypt's Hosni Mubarak? -

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