The US-Egypt NGO funding problem
The US-Egypt NGO funding problem
Tuesday, May 18,2010 15:30
By Joseph Mayton

CAIRO: Despite Washington’s annoyance that Egypt renewed the controversial Emergency Laws that allow for arrest and detention without trial and the use of State Security Courts, the United States didn’t appear to be doing much else on bolstering Egypt’s floundering democracy groups. NGOs in the country had already voiced concern that American aid would dry up after a decision last year to cut funding to non-government approved NGOs.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did criticize slightly the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

However, what has local NGOs attention, is the State Department’s preparations to enter new negotiations with Egypt over a new $4 billion aid endowment. NGOs argue that the new funding, although the US says will help promote pro-democracy and human rights organizations, will give the Cairo government a reward for renewing the emergency laws.

Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy Magazine wrote that critics argue the endowment would “unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.”

The proposal, however, is a ways off from being implemented, as the State Department is currently evaluating the idea along with the next decade of potential American economic aid to the country.

Rogin writes that critics, “which include former Bush administration officials, human rights groups, and regional experts, say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights.”

Washington has cut around 50 percent of funding in the past year. This sparks accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Middle East policy, including the peace process with Israel.

Rights activists have repeatedly told Bikya Masr that these funding cuts will do more good to the government than in helping to foster an approach that is equitable and pro-democracy.

American President Barack Obama has pushed democracy to the background of his international policy, instead focusing on “building ideas,” said a Washington-based democracy advocate inside the State Department.

“While it is important in galvanizing the Arab world to understand what America means when it talks, it is also extremely important to support these pro-democracy and human rights groups,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

The official added that if funding gets cut from these local groups, “who is going to fund them and what is the future going to look like. We don’t want more of the same, here in the US, or in Egypt or other countries where activists and leaders need support.”

But, it is a hands off approach that has won on two sides, governments and the people. There are few Egyptian activists who argue Obama is not a welcome change from the antagonistic approach that George W. Bush had during his tenure.

And while they would like Washington to give more support to their activities, they say it is ultimately up to them to find funding and support for their activities in Egypt and not rely on government’s abroad to make change a reality

Republished With Permission From Bikya Masr