Friday, March 23, 2012

Egypt Update

Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested in March 2011 for “insulting the Egyptian army.” The charge resulted from his blog post “The army and the people were never one hand.” He was sentenced to three years in prison. He went on hunger strike on August 22, but still consumed milk and juice. He ended his hunger strike on December 31. He was pardoned along with almost 2,000 other dissidents in January.

On December 29, the Egyptian military raided the offices of several human rights groups in Cairo including Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute, all of which are funded by the U.S. government. In January, 6 Americans who worked for human rights groups in Egypt were prevented from leaving Egypt. On February 5, 43 employees of human rights organizations active in Egypt were charged with illegally providing foreign funding to non-governmental organizations in the country. Those facing charges included 19 Americans. This was accompanied by an attempt by Egyptian state media to discredit the protestors who opposed the ruling military council as working for foreign countries, including the United States, against the interests of Egypt.

NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson described the real motivation behind these charges: the Egyptian military wanted to quash the groups’ pro-democracy work.

NELSON: Well, the feeling was that U.S. aid was not being channeled through the proper ministries. It was going straight to projects and to these pro-democracy groups, and that efforts were afoot to make democracy happen in Egypt without the government's say-so. Of course, there are also a lot of protests and things going on, especially against the ruling generals and the interim government. And so this was sort of seen as a way to detract from that and to sort of raise the level of xenophobia here in Egypt.

According to Freedom House, the US provides Egypt with 300 million dollars a year in economic and social assistance. Also according to Freedom House, the ministry that receives this funding is headed by “a Mubarak holdover who has been directing the assault against civil society.” The US also provides Egypt with 1.3 billion dollars in military aid to Egypt annually.

On February 16, Rand Paul attempted to add an amendment to a transportation bill that would “end all foreign aid to Egypt if our US citizens are not released in 30 days.” You can hear Rand Paul speak in favor of his amendment at Paul was unable to pass his amendment.

Rand Paul opposes all foreign aid. I do not. I greatly support humanitarian assistance like HIV/AIDS prevention and care, famine assistance, and broadcasting news to closed societies. I oppose military aid to governments who do not respect human rights, unless I believe there is a more important strategic or security concern to justify such aid. But on this part of foreign aid Paul and I agree. We shouldn’t be providing any aid to the government of Egypt. I greatly support the work that IRI, NDI, and Freedom House do in Egypt and believe they should continue to receive taxpayer money.   

On March 1 the foreign NGO workers involved in the case were allowed to come home. 14 Egyptians who worked for these human rights organizations remain in Egypt to face the original charges, however.

As a result of the FY 2012 State and Foreign Operations Bill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must certify that the government of Egypt is, “supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law” before Egypt can recieve US military aid.  As Egypt’s treatment of human rights organizations and dissidents makes clear, Egypt is not supporting free expression, association, or the creation of a truly democratic state. Clinton is set to make this determination in late spring.

The Egyptian military says that it plans to transfer to civilian rule by July. Only time will tell if this transfer will occur on time and how complete it will be if and when it does occur.

Post Script: The final results of Egypt’s parliamentary elections are in. The Muslim Brotherhood won 47 percent of the seats and the more conservative Islamists won around 25 percent of the seats. The ratification of a constitution and the Egyptian presidential election are both set for June.

UPDATE (7/4/12): On March 23, Hilary Clinton certified that the Egyptian government is supporting the transition to civilian government, allowing US military aid to Egypt to continue.

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