You've just gotta love the Americans. First they build-up these brutal, dictatorial regimes; with bundles of money, support, CIA-help, and arms. Then the Americans criticize the regimes, and themselves, without every getting to the root causes of why these policies are pursued and how much suffering and misery and hatried are the result.
AID's Egyptian Disgrace
By Jackson Diehl
Monday, September 2, 2002; Page A23
The Bush administration's largely symbolic slap at Hosni Mubarak for imprisoning Egypt's leading pro-democracy advocate was accompanied by a potentially more
important step: a commitment to review U.S. democracy-building projects in Egypt. It's an audit that's long overdue -- and the results ought to shame the Agency for
Egypt is AID's biggest client, with a budget of $655 million for this year and $615 million requested for next. At least $25 million of that annual bonanza is supposed
to be spent on promoting democracy, the agency says -- a sum that would be sufficient to fund a huge political movement in most Third World countries. Yet not a
dollar is going to the independent Egyptian groups that, at great risk, are trying to advocate democratic reforms for Mubarak's rotting autocracy.
The Ibn Khaldun Center of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, whose sentencing to seven years in prison finally prompted a White House sanction, never benefited from the
billions AID has poured into Egypt. Nor has the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, another group perpetually under pressure from Mubarak's police. The
Center for Legal Studies on Human Rights had to close down for lack of funds.
So where do all those dollars go? Well, in the past several years, $12.5 million has been spent on computers and computer training for the Egyptian parliament -- a
rubber-stamp body that, as documented by Ibn Khaldun, was fraudulently elected. Millions more went to local government authorities, also working under
Mubarak's thumb, who used it to buy equipment, issue regulations or put up Web sites.
Perhaps most tellingly, $17.8 million was budgeted for "raising the quality of judicial decision making" by the very kangaroo court system Mubarak used to throw
Ibrahim and a host of other democracy advocates in prison. The latest AID report on that program, issued following Ibrahim's first trial and the police-enforced
shutdown of the Ibn Khaldun Center, unabashedly concluded: "In certain areas, such as civil society development and rule of law, performance exceeded
It's not only that the huge AID bureaucracy in Cairo chooses to ignore the fact that the courts it is funding in the name of democracy are being used to destroy
Egypt's most important democrats, who themselves are denied AID support. It's that AID has formally agreed to support Mubarak's policy of stamping out any
group that questions his police state. By bilateral agreement, the agency has granted the Egyptian government the right to review and approve -- or veto -- any
U.S.-funded project. "By definition that means that any group that gets funded is not working on real democratization programs, since the government opposes that,"
said one frustrated American democracy advocate who works with other programs in Egypt. "It also means that the United States government has effectively
sanctioned Mubarak's prosecution of Ibn Khaldun and any other independent democracy group."
In fact, Ibrahim and the staff of Ibn Khaldun were sent to prison in part for the offense of accepting foreign funding -- from the European Union -- without
government approval. The State Department calls that unjust; but the AID has scrupulously observed the same principle in its own Egyptian programs.
The difference between AID's Mubarak-approved "democracy promotion" and a real advocacy program can be found in the contrast between the recent projects
produced by the 355-member Cairo AID staff (including 90 Americans) and those overseen by the couple of dozen Ibn Khaldun workers before its demise. AID
bought computers for the parliamentary apparat; Ibn Khaldun produced a groundbreaking documentary on fraud in the 1995 parliamentary elections. AID poured
money into the toothless Egyptian Trade Union Federation, on the ludicrous basis that it was "pre-positioning a government-controlled trade union for eventual
independence"; Ibn Khaldun documented incidents of violence and discrimination against minority Christian Copts and women. AID supported the development of
new waste-disposal regulations by the city of Alexandria; Ibn Khaldun set up a program to rehabilitate paroled Islamic militants and help them establish small
It wouldn't be hard for the United States to fund a legitimate democratization program in Egypt -- it simply could pick up the work that Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ibn
Khaldun were forced to give up. That, of course, would require a genuine change in U.S. policy toward Egypt: not just the symbolic withholding of notional
supplemental aid, but the abolition of Mubarak's privilege to decide how to spend American taxpayer money meant to erode his dictatorship. If AID's funding cannot
be so liberated, it can at least be cut. Stopping the gravy train for Mubarak's obedient judges and sycophantic legislators would be a modest blow for the cause of