Egyptian Military Crackdown on Government Funded Civic Groups


New Orleans        There seems little argument left that the Egyptian military is aggressively pursuing a counter revolutionary program.  The latest evidence was shocking in its boldness when a coordinated shutdown three U.S. Government funded civic and democracy groups, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House, as well as a similar civic support German funded civic training foundation and a non-profit, the Egyptian Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, whose mission is to study the Egyptian military budget and expenditures, making them invaluable but wildly controversial these days.

Other than the Observatory, the other groups are all funded either 100% or close to 100% by the U.S. Government or the German Government.  A U.S. Congress funding deal apportions money (and therefore patronage, jobs, travel, and so forth) to both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party to ostensibly run nonpartisan civic training and support programs, which would teach citizens in foreign countries how to make democracy and government work just like back home.  I will ignore the obvious contradiction that the way our government is now working is a challenged model at best in many foreign lands.  Similarly in Germany their international aid money is distributed through foundations that are run by each of the political parties receiving a threshold share of the parliamentary vote qualifying their stifung to initiate civic and training programs in other countries.  To call any of these non-governmental organizations is a stretch since virtually all of their money is funneled directly from either the US or German government depending on the entity.

So when the Egyptian military seizes offices and operations of such organizations there is no way to understand this other than as direct, premeditated slap at the governments in question.  This may seem like a shot across the bow, but it is more a missile fired close enough for powder burns and medic calls.

When the Organizers’ Forum delegation visited Cairo several months ago, our “political” committee met with an NDI representative, so we were pretty well briefed on their program.  Until the revolution it had been tiny and below the radar because it was hardly a program at all.  Since the revolution given the election activity they had added extensive staff, but we got no impression that any were organizers or folks that one could claim could cause the military many problems.  Freedom House had inelegantly tried to take perhaps too much credit for some training they had organized for activists in recent years.  When we met with young revolutionaries who had been key spokesmen for the Tahrir Square protests, they thought some of the training was valuable, but they had sent lower echelon people to participate, not having time themselves or a whole lot of interest from what we could determine.

The Egyptian military likely presumes that they can get away with some of this outrage because of the ham handed way the State Department and the U.S. Ambassador handled some of this after the revolution with announcements of multi-million dollar funds available to support “democracy building” projects that let to large lines around the embassy of folks desperate for the money, repelling any serious groups from being able to get near such support.  The Ambassador did everything but erect a giant neon sign saying that they intended to interfere in as many ways as possible, thereby making involvement or support by the US Government toxic to any of the activists or revolutionaries.

We met with numerous legitimate NGOs and there is no question that any NGO without a local base or registration is operating in very tenuous circumstances.  Without revealing more, the stories of the gyrations and contortions that allowed them to operate in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt were as innovative and startling as they were admirable.

The military seems to have pointedly sent a drastic and unsettling message to other world governments as they continue to try to divert attention from their own tragic mishandling of recent protests and the blood on their hands from almost 100 deaths in recent weeks.  We can only hope that as chilling as this will be to the rest of the non-profit community in Egypt that the military will be content with its international muscle flex rather than initiating a wave to even more drastic and draconian attacks on the human and civil rights of its citizens.  Without doubt there are many we visited with only short months ago who are now lying low, backing up hard drives, and staying with friends and family as they prepare for what could be worse to come.  Our hopes and prayers are with them.