A “Must Read” on the “Egyptian Circus” from South Africa’s Daily Maverick: “A dangerous habit, spreading of democracy”

This piece from the Daily Maverick‘s J. Brooks Spector is the most detailed and explanatory coverage on the Egyptian charges against the international and local NGO employees.  Do read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt:

In theory at least, the social and political explosion of the Arab Spring should have been NED and its associated bodies’ next golden moment in the sun. All those regimes, previously frozen in time, now suddenly with their societies breaking out into a new, more open style of politics and freer elections should be making bountiful times for groups like the NED. Instead, these organisations seem to be running into a growing wave of suspicion about their ulterior motives.

Traditionally, of course, authoritarian rulers have viewed these pro-democracy groups with deep suspicion, routinely denouncing them as meddlers or spies – and sometimes directly harassing their staffers. But Egypt’s move breaks new ground in announcing it wanted to try 19 Americans and several dozen others on charges that have left the Obama administration shocked and surprised – and put the major American military aid program to Egypt at risk as well.

In the wake of the announcement of the charges, the Egyptian government quickly recalled a senior military aid delegation that was just about to begin some intensive discussions with members of Congress. The charges, as they were publicly announced, included operating without licenses, “conducting research to send to the United States” and supporting Egyptian candidates and parties “to serve foreign interests”. The fresh winds of last year’s Arab Spring and the heady embrace of the ideas of Gene Sharpe and Saul Alinsky and the power of the Internet, satellite TV and social media appear to have shifted more than just a bit.

In response, the IRI and NDI have argued their activities consisted of teaching the methodologies of grass-roots organising, political campaigns and democratic elections to anyone willing to listen, just as they have been doing in other places for years – without favouring any particular Egyptian political faction. An allied group, the Freedom House NGO, said that for its part it had been training young activists and carrying out international exchange programs while another NGO, the International Centre for Journalists, was doing its training on media issues. All four bodies insisted that had been trying to comply with Egyptian laws and be transparent about their activities. As Freedom House executive director David Kramer told reporters, “Everything we did was out in the open.” Where’s the beef?

Oddly, perhaps, the NDI and IRI seem to have come into the sights of prosecutors because of their role in supporting opposition to President Hosni Mubarak, before he fell from power last year. Sinister stuff that. Former chief of intelligence under Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, explained in his court deposition, “Data was collected about the activities of the American Embassy through the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.” Moreover, back in March 2011, when US officials had announced grants of some $65-million to pro-democracy groups, Fayza Abul Naga, Egypt’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation – and a holdover from Mubarak’s regime – had renewed her longstanding campaign against foreign financing. Some analysts speculate she is close to the country’s highest-ranking military figure, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and their relationship is tied up with the crackdown.

What about democracy in Djibouti?

Just asking . . . in light of the “Egyptian Circus” noted in my last post.

Perhaps you will recall that in March of last year Djibouti ordered the U.S. funded election observation mission led by Democracy International out of the country and declared its activities illegal. The sort of conduct that we have seen for years from Egyptian autocratic leaders–although fortunately they stopped short of arresting assistance workers.

Is Djibouti an example of a place where other priorities override our priority for supporting democratic rights? See Democracy Digest: “Stark division” in Arab Spring underlies U.S. policy too”.

Here I noted the spotlight on Djibouti as host to a small but established AFRICOM forces contingent in the form of the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa, CJTFHOA, with the recent special forces hostage rescue. see “U.S. sees Djibouti base as ‘central’ to its plans” in this week’s East African for further discussion.

How is Djibouti doing on democratic rights now? Here is a new report from Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns radio journalist Farah Abadid Hildid’s abduction by the police yesterday and the threats and torture to which he was subjected during the 24 hours he was held. Hildid works for La Voix de Djibouti, a radio station that broadcasts on the shortwave from Europe and is now also available on the Internet.

He described his ordeal to Reporters Without Borders by telephone two hours after his release:

“I was in Djibouti City yesterday waiting for a meeting. It was 11:30 am. Two men in a car with tinted windows stopped next to me. It was a uniformed policeman and a man in plain clothes. They asked me to get in. I refused but they forced me into the car. They blindfolded me so that I did not know where they were taking me. I found myself in a cell. They removed my clothes and handcuffed me, and that is how I spent the night, sleeping on the floor.

“They beat my feet very violently with pieces of rubber. They also broke my glasses. ‘We’ve had enough of you,’ they said. ‘You must stop broadcasting information about us. You must stop bothering the police and the Department for Investigation and Documentation. It will be the worse for you if you continue.’ At midday today, they brought me my clothes and blindfolded me again. Then they drove me to a piece of waste ground in the Gabode 4 district and left me there.”

Reporters Without Borders has decided to refer this matter to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and will remain in regular contact with Hildid in order to be kept informed of his security situation.

“The physical mistreatment and psychological torture inflicted on this journalist are a disgrace to Djibouti’s authorities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call on them to put an immediate end to this sort of intimidation. If anything happens to Hildid again, we will know who is responsible.”

Hildid was detained twice in 2011 and was tortured and mistreated both times. This was confirmed by medical examinations after both periods in detention. The first time he was arrested, in February 2011, he was held for more than four months in Gabode prison on a charge of “participating in an insurrectional movement.”

The second time he was arrested, on 21 November, he was charged with encouraging an illegal demonstration and insulting the president. He was released four days later after being placed under the supervision of an investigating judge attached to the supreme court.

As a result of these and other events, Djibouti fell 49 places in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is now ranked 159th out of 179 countries.

Can we wait and take up the issue of democratic reforms later, sometime into the future? Take note of the “comment is free” op/ed in the Guardian from May 2009 about Obama being seen as continuing U.S. support for Mubarak:

Obama in Cairo is a blow to democracy; Obama’s decision to give a speech to the Muslim world from Cairo is an endorsement of Egypt’s brutal dictatorship

Wajahat Ali
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 May 2009 15.30 EDT
Article history

By choosing Cairo, Egypt as the platform for his long awaited address to the global Muslim community, President Barack Obama predictably leans on a reliable dictatorship suffocating a country that is teetering toward religious and political irrelevance.

Indeed, modern Egypt resembles its ubiquitous tourist attraction, the Sphinx, the symbolic temple guardian adorned with a human head on a prostrate lion.

Similarly, the near-30-year, brutal autocracy of Hosni Mubarak weighs heavily on the immobilised body of an

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Another sad tale of why it IS hard to support democracy from inside the Beltway in Washington . . .

“Democracy Digest” from the National Endowment of Democracy reports on a perplexing problem that anyone who is interested in democracy support or promotion should give some serious attention to:

. . . But as President Barack Obama was telling the ruling military [in Egypt] to stop harassing pro-democracy groups, powerful lobbyists were pressing the regime’s case in Washington.

Egyptian security forces seized computers, documents, and tens of thousands of dollars in cash in December 29 raids on the offices of pro-democracy NGOs, including several Egyptian groups as well as the US-based National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House.

“The lobbyists quickly mobilized to provide Egypt with political cover, touching off a behind-the-scenes battle between K Street interests and U.S. officials — with potentially huge implications for the critical U.S.-Egyptian relationship,” Politico reports.

A lobbyist working for the Livingston Group immediately circulated talking points — which some Capitol Hill insiders suspect were drafted by Egyptian officials in Washington — claiming that the IRI and NDI were operating outside Egyptian law. These lobbyists vehemently opposed any calls for cuts in U.S. aid to Egypt. The United States gives Egypt roughly $2 billion per year in aid, mainly as military assistance.

“[There] are foreign NGOs working in Egypt without being licensed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Social Solidarity. Under this category falls NDI and IRI,” the talking points stated, which were obtained by POLITICO. “No organizations, entities or individuals, national or foreign, should be allowed to operate outside the law.”

IRI, NDI and Freedom House have pushed back hard, with help from their own high-profile supporters. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is the chairman of IRI’s board of directors, while Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and a particular target of Egyptian ire, runs its program there. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is the head of NDI’s board, with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) serving as a vice chairman.

“I think what’s concerning about this, about where we are right now, is you have American citizens being hauled into the Egyptian Ministry of Justice and questioned, interrogated, and at the same time, you have American citizens — lobbyists — lobbying on Egypt’s behalf,” said Scott Mastic, IRI’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It’s very distressing.”

“I think a lot of people were very angry to see Livingston up here lobbying for the Egyptians after all this,” a congressional source told Politico. “Some people up here are pretty pissed.”

“To be prosecuted now strikes us as 100 percent political,” said Les Campbell, NDI’s Middle East program director. “This is more about what is happening in Egypt, and we’re caught in a Catch-22.”

For the record I had an entirely positive experience running the NED-funded portion of the IRI Kenya programming when I was Resident Director of the IRI East Africa office–the controversy that we ended up having was strictly about the Kenyan election observation and exit poll that the Ambassador got funding for through USAID which did not involve NED at all.

At the same time, it has to be noted that IRI certainly has Americans who are lobbyists for foreign governments on its board — including the board member who was the lead delegate for the Kenya election observation. What is being done to IRI and NDI–most especially to their local staffs who don’t have the protections associated with American citizenship–is to me very wrong and unfortunate. But what thuggish foreign government that can afford it does not hire one or more lobbyists in Washington to represent its interests (including opposing pressure for democratic reforms) unless it is prohibited by U.S. law from doing so?

We all read about the Abramoff scandals, etc., etc. I have noted here before some of the people who served this role for the Moi regime in Kenya at the same time IRI was doing an election observation back in 1992. Yes, it would be nice if Americans refused to do this work for foreign governments working at cross purposes with our professed values and our stated policies, but that just does not appear to be a realistic thing to hope for given the long track record of how these things work–this is not a new problem. [Update–it appears that the “naming and shaming” approach may have borne fruit in this case: “Lobbyists Drop Egypt’s Government as Client”, NYTimes.]

Obama and “the ideals that still light the world” and that “we will not give up for expedience’s sake”

In writing here about the situation in Eygpt and U.S. support for democracy, I referred to remembering what the President had said about his priorities as our leader and holding him accountable to that.  To that end I am quoting here the Inauguration Day post from two years ago that was part of wrapping up a personal web “travel log” that my wife and I did to keep in touch with friends and family while we were in Nairobi:

January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day from Mississippi!

Beautiful cool, clear winter day here. Big moment for Kenyans. The news from Kenya is especially troubling right now (but do not hesitate to travel there if you are able–I certainly want to get back for a visit at the first available opportunity).

The magnitude of the food crisis has reached the point that the Gov’t (even) has declared a “national emergency” reflecting perhaps 10M people short of food. Several big corruption situations involving maize, petrol and other vital needs have just now come to light, while a newspaper reports that witnesses who provided confidential evidence to a committee appointed to investigate the post-election violence have been identifiable through the reports produced, are now under death threat and in many cases in hiding, having been provided no protection by the government. Thus, they are unlikely to be available to testify in the event that the prosecution tribunal to be established actually comes to fruition. SO, not much new–just a lot MORE of the same type of news.

At the same time, these things are not inevitable and can be changed to some substantial degree.

For those of you who have contributed to help with the Upako Centre or other worthy projects in Kenya, this would be a great time to keep them in your prayers and offer any additional financial support you are able. Things have turned dramatically for most of us financially since the time we went to Kenya in the spring of 2007, but most of us still have much to be grateful for and lots more than what we really need when it comes down to it.
____________________________
From the President’s Inaugural Address this morning:

. . . .

Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.
Those ideals still light the world and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.
So to all peoples and governments watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of all nations and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
. . . .

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. The world has changed, and we must change with it.

Dancing with the Data We Have

Daniel Kaufmann draws lessons from the events in the Middle East:

‘Tunisia, Egypt and Beyond:  Fewer Predictions, More Data and Aid Reform Needed,’ The Kauffmann Governance Post

The Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), which has been compiled since the mid-1990s, measure six components of governance. One very important component is Voice and Democratic Accountability (V&A). The V&A indicator measures not only whether countries hold elections, but also whether these are truly contested, legitimate, free and fair, whether the government is accountable to its citizens, and whether there are basic freedoms of expression and association, including protection of media freedoms, of civil society, and against human rights abuses.The sobering reality is that in terms of Voice and Democratic Accountability, the Middle East has rated very poorly relative to the rest of the world for many years. With very few exceptions, there is little variation on this indicator across the region. Worse, even though the region began the past decade underperforming on V&A, most every country in the region has deteriorated since and ended the decade at even lower levels of V&A.

Figure 1 below shows the extent to which the Middle East has been afflicted by a severe deficit in accountability. In fact, all Middle East countries, with the exception of Israel, rank in the bottom half of the world on V&A. Within the Arab world, Lebanon and Kuwait are above the rest, but still remain in the bottom third globally. The remaining Middle East countries perform even worse, in the bottom quartile (25th percentile or below) in the V&A component, including Tunisia and Egypt (both underperformed rather similarly). Countries like Iran, (North) Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya rank among the very bottom (10th percentile or below).

From a broader global perspective, Egypt’s percentile rank, at a lowly 15.6 (out of a maximum of 100) in 2009 (meaning that over 170 countries around the world rated above Egypt) compares extremely poorly with countries like South Africa (67th percentile), Brazil (62), Ghana (61) and Indonesia (49). By the end of the decade, Egypt rated similarly in V&A to countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Angola and Congo.

So here we have a comparison of the Voice and Accountability measure from the World Governance Indicators for the five countries of the East African Community, plus Sudan and Ethiopia, along with Tunisia and Egypt (for 2009, the most recent):

Tanzania–43.6

Kenya–37.4

Uganda–33.2

Burundi–28

Egypt–15.2

Ethiopia–12.3

Rwanda–10.9

Sudan–6.2

Libya–2.8

To prepare for the Uganda election February 18, here is the full Uganda Country Report for the World Governance Indicators with links to the sources of the original data.

Dr. Kaufmann goes to look at aid spending:

. .  .  .  Let us look specifically at how donors have responded to the democratic deficit in the Middle East over the past decade.

On aggregate, as Figure 2 indicates, donors have been oblivious to poor democratic governance in the region. In fact, while Voice and Accountability have deteriorated over the past decade, aid increased significantly, even when excluding the ‘special case’ of Iraq from this sample (from US $6.2 billion to $10.5 billion). In fact, almost all of donor development aid is channeled to Middle East countries that have low democratic accountability by the standards of other developing countries.

Are we doing any better in East Africa or are we ‘oblivious’ as well?  Simply looking at the “Voice and Democratic Accountability” scores raises obvious questions . . . .

Reviewing USAID Democracy and Governance Support in Egypt

 

Here is an audit report from the USAID Inspector General, reviewing USAID Eygpt’s Democracy and Governance expenditures as of October 2009. (h/t Pro Publica)

In fiscal year (FY) 2008, U.S. foreign economic assistance to Egypt was valued at $415 million, which included specific programs to promote democracy (valued at $55 million). On average, for the 10 years since 1999, USAID/Egypt has provided $24 million to implementers to conduct democracy and governance programs. Although the mission’s funding for democracy and governance programs averaged $24 million annually, USAID/Egypt’s funding spiraled upward as much as 97 percent in 2004, with a drastic increase in FYs 2006–2008. Since FY 2004, USAID/Egypt has designed democracy and governance programs valued at $181 million to be conducted until the end of FY 2012.

.  .  .  .

Based on the programs reviewed, the impact of USAID/Egypt’s democracy and governance activities was limited in strengthening democracy and governance in Egypt. Furthermore, in separate recently published reports, independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ranked Egypt unfavorably in indexes of media freedom, corruption, civil liberties, political rights, and democracy. Egypt’s ranking in these indexes remained unchanged or declined for the past 2 years. The overall impact of USAID/Egypt’s programs in democracy and governance was unnoticeable in indexes describing the country’s democratic environment.

A major contributing factor to the limited achievements for some of these programs resulted from a lack of support from the Government of Egypt. According to a mission official, the Government of Egypt has resisted USAID/Egypt’s democracy and governance program and has suspended the activities of many U.S. NGOs because Egyptian officials thought these organizations were too aggressive. Notwithstanding the Egyptian government’s negative actions, U.S. decisionmakers did not terminate the democracy and government program.

USAID/Egypt has used two types of instruments to administer its democracy and governance activities: a bilateral agreement and a direct grants program. Under the bilateral agreement, USAID and the Government of Egypt agreed to implement programs in the three major areas of rule of law and human rights, good governance, and civil society programs (Figure 3). Using the direct grants program, USAID/Egypt has awarded grants and cooperative agreements to NGOs and other civil society organizations without prior approval from the Egyptian government.

USAID/Egypt’s Office of Democracy and Governance developed programs with the objective of strengthening democracy and governance in rule of law and human rights, good governance, and civil society. Activities within the three major areas reviewed include commodities, technical assistance, training, or resource transfers designed to contribute to achieving the following objectives:

Rule of Law and Human Rights – strengthen the administration of justice and access to justice for women and disadvantaged groups.

Good Governance – promote a more accountable and responsive local government.

Civil Society – promote greater independence and professionalism in media and strengthen the organizational capabilities of civil society organizations while directly supporting their programs in areas such as political reform, elections monitoring, and civic education.

In the past, USAID/Egypt used a bilateral program with the Government of Egypt to conduct its democracy and governance programs. However, the mission modified its approach in 2005 to add a direct grants program after Congress allowed USAID/Egypt to have more control over its funding.

.  .  .  .

Although the Civil Society Direct Grants Program achieved its greatest success in conducting democracy and governance activities, the program had a limited impact on strengthening democracy and governance in Egypt. While the grantee programs reviewed achieved more than half of their planned activities, the impact of these activities was limited because of political circumstances, government resistance, and the grantees’ lack of experience. Some examples include the following:

A grantee received $1.2 million, in part to provide training on principles of democratic governance and civic participation to at least 600 teachers and 30,000 middle, high school, and university students in four regions of Egypt. However, the grantee managed to train only 330 teachers and about 2,000 students, less than 8 percent of the target.

Sudan Will Be Key Immediate Challenge for U.S. Diplomacy

With the official results coming back on the Southern Sudan referendum reflecting near unanimity in the wish to succeed, at the same time that peaceful student protests have sprung up in Khartoum, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, the U.S. will face some soul searching.  It is reported that we have been preparing to move to “normalization” with Khartoum as the “carrot” for the referendum and a peaceful secession.  At the same time, al-Bashir remains under ICC indictment, repression in the North continues, violence in Darfur seems to have risen–and now, we see indigenous peaceful protest against repression in Khartoum at a time of sweeping change in the region.

Obviously it will be difficult to try to uphold all of our principles while faced with this many “moving pieces”.  Whatever we do will be inevitably imperfect and subject to criticism in our domestic adversarial political system.  Nonetheless, this is important and I hope that we don’t forget the aspirations of the people of the North as well as the South.

Timing is Everything: Are We Too Late in Promoting Democracy in Egypt? [Updated and Expanded]

We shall see.  I hope not, for the sake of Egyptians and for my country as well.

I know that some of my friends will say that “Bush was right” to emphasize democracy in the Middle East in his second inaugural address and otherwise.  I agree that much of what President Bush said was right.  Unfortunately he forfeited his credibility, and that of the United States to some substantial extent, by what he did.  He made the decision, at least in the some final sense, to invade Iraq, instead.   I do not doubt that many of the people involved in this subjectively wished for the best for democracy in Iraq, it’s just that they were way over their heads in terms of even understanding the implications of what they were doing, much less controlling them–both for the United States and for Iraq.

Seeing what has happened in Tunisia and what may be happening now in Egypt should remind us of what can happen to change regimes and systems of government without war.  Just as in Eastern Europe, South Africa and many other places.   Likewise, Bush turned his back on traditional American values by associating American exceptionalism with a purported privilege to get involved in torture if it seemed important enough to the United States  in the short run.

I firmly believe that the invasion of Iraq and “the torture problem” are both aberrational behavior for the United States and I am optimistic that we are in the process of recovering our standing in the world and our voice.  Barak Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize for being an American President who simply was not Bush.

Just like Bush, Obama has come into office with essentially no foreign affairs experience, although he is obviously a more worldly person in certain ways, at least in the sense of having spent some time living overseas as a child and having a “multicultural” background.  Has Obama been too reticent in speaking about democracy in his first two years?  I don’t know–everyone is entitled to an opinion about this, but there is no clear answer.  I will say that it is both entirely fair, and vitally important that he be judged as a leader  by what he has in fact said.  I voted for George Bush in 2000, even though like everyone else I knew deep down that he was not really qualified to be President, because I liked a lot of what he said, “compassionate conservatism” and all, that he either did not mean or changed his mind about.

I remember what Obama said in his inaugural address about democracy and our relations with the rest of the world.  I liked it and was inspired by it.  I certainly hope he meant it and will live up to it.

Update: The purpose of this is not to engage in gratuitous “Bush bashing”, but rather to speak against revisionism that makes Bush into something he wasn’t and fails to take into account the fact that Obama took the helm of a country that was weaker and less influential, and more uncertain of its future, because of the substantive mistakes of his predecessor.  It is not just the invasion of Iraq itself, it was the aggressive dismissal of the opinions of those who knew better; the failures represented by Abu Ghraib and the weak response and failure to take responsibility in its aftermath; the mistrust and fear generated by rendition and associated failures to live up to our human rights and rule of law standards–all weakened our standing and influence.  Relatedly, the choice to initiate and run up large deficits made the U.S. more vulnerable as the finance sector bubble led to a near-catastrophic crash.

It seems to me that the greatest state exponents of repression and Islamist extremism across the greater Middle East region have been Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Bush unwittingly, presumably, facilitated Iranian influence regionally, and if anything seemed to draw closer than ever to the Saudis even in the wake of 9-11, including through his energy policies.  While the secret arms-for-hostage deals in the “Iran-Contra” fiasco were the conspicuous low point vis-a-vis Iran, no American president seems to have found his footing on dealing with that regime.

I think Obama and his administration should speak with greater moral clarity on democracy in the Middle East, because it is the right thing to do and because the rhetoric of American Presidents can matter more than we often appreciate.  But in fairness, it should be recognized that he almost had to try to recalibrate our tone and go for a fresh start because what we had been doing in sum was not working.

This is how Michael Hirsh has put it in the National Journal:

The irony for U.S. officials is that while President Bush devoted vast amounts of the country’s blood and treasure to establishing democracy in the Arab world — and devoted many speeches to it, including his second inaugural address — he achieved very little progress toward that goal during his eight years in office. Indeed, the places where Bush openly supported democracy, such as Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, have grown only more troubled, their politics ever more intractable.

By contrast, President Obama has seemed to play down democratic themes in the Middle East, openly supporting the Arab autocrats and waxing lukewarm at best in supporting democracy in those countries and in Iran. Yet the Arab and Iranian democracy movements have taken off on his watch.

The developments of the past few weeks have thus done much to resurrect questions about the so-called neoconservative program. In the lead-in to the Iraq war, many critics questioned whether democracy could really be imposed by force or even outside pressure, or whether instead it had to flow organically from the people in order to stick.

Perhaps we will soon find out.