The US probably will be able to change Middle East’s rulers in the next 2-4 years. How much blood is the only open question? (Cartoon by drybones.com).
As a wave of protests washed over the Arab world, global media, followed the Western lead – and sang hosannas to this ‘people’s movement.’ It would come as no surprise to 2ndlook readers that this entire saga was creation of Western powers.
Specific details have come out in the course of the last 1 year. Going by the patterns behind these ‘revolutions’, 2ndlook posts pushed the case of ‘manufacture’ strongly – and clearly.
The 2ndlook line on the Arab Spring has now been vindicated.
On Dec. 29, Egyptian security forces raided the offices of 17 foreign-based groups, known as nongovernmental organizations, including the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House, all of which receive millions of dollars annually in U.S. government funding.(Read more here).
It was estimated by Egyptian sources that ‘funds sent to the five NGOs currently under investigation have doubled following Egypt’s January 25 revolution, reports the Egyptian Ahram Online.
According to Reuters, the U.S.-based groups operate programs to train political parties. But the Egyptian public prosecutors office says it’s investigating whether they received foreign funding to do local politicking, which would be a violation of Egyptian law. The Guardian reports that “in recent months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has accused local non-governmental organizations of receiving money from abroad, and has argued that the recent unrest in the country is by ‘foreign hands’.” (via Egyptian Police Raid NGO Offices in Cairo – Global – The Atlantic Wire).
The Masque of Arab Spring
Indian press coverage of this 75-day drama has been minimal.
Below is the complete story, based on mostly American and Egyptian reports. This chapter started with raids by Egyptian authorities on ‘at least 17 NGO offices in Egypt, including IRI’s, in late December 2011’, as per BBC News reports.
Among the groups under investigation are the US-government funded National Democratic Institute – founded by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright – and the International Republican Institute, whose chairman is Republican senator John McCain. Both organisations are affiliated with the two major political parties in the United States.
Both the NDI and the IRI receive most of their funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US State Department, and the National Endowment for Democracy. (via Egypt authorities ‘secure’ US military plane repatriating NGO workers – Politics – Egypt – Ahram Online).
A total of 43 employees of four democracy promotion organizations have been charged with illegally accepting foreign funds and operating without a license. A fifth group, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, is based in Germany. (via U.S.-Egypt Tensions Persist as Pro-Democracy Workers Allowed to Leave – Bloomberg).
Western media reports claimed that these NGOs were ‘assisting Egyptian democracy activists with voter registration and electoral reform efforts.’ Confessing to the media, an US official,
Campbell said NDI and IRI are very mainstream organizations with no history of problems operating in foreign countries. “Nothing like this has ever happened to us before. It’s pretty shocking,” (via K Street defends Egyptian raids – John Bresnahan – POLITICO.com).
Egyptian courts came down hard at the staffers in these NGOs. They were detained and instructed not to leave Egypt. All those US citizens who were
hit with travel bans work with the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute. Both receive U.S. public funding and are loosely affiliated with the two major U.S. political parties. (via US Embassy shelters Americans amid Egypt NGO crackdown – Yahoo!).
Big Daddy with Big Stick
In this group of foreign staffers, under investigation by Egyptian authorities, was Sam LaHood, the son of the US Secretary of State for Transportation, Ray La Hood.
Sam LaHood (pictured above on the far left). Image source – AP; source – theatlanticwire.com
The transport secretary said he was puzzled as to why US and foreign NGOs were suddenly in the spotlight.
“These NGOs have been working for years in democracy-building efforts, and they thought they were well within their right to do it,” he said. “So it’s a little bit puzzling to many people what’s happening there.” (via BBC News – Ray LaHood: US pressing Egypt on NGO workers).
With such high level patrons, would these NGOs and Think Tanks simply submit.
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.
Both IRI and NDI had submitted registration applications to the Egyptian government as foreign-based NGOs in the mid-2000s. The Mubarak regime never approved the applications, despite repeated requests from the groups that it do so. So both organizations were technically operating
in violation of Egyptian law. (via K Street defends Egyptian raids – John Bresnahan – POLITICO.com.).
Soon after charges were filed by Egyptian authorities, in December,
the Americans took refuge in the U.S. Embassy compound in Cairo. The charges carried a possible jail sentences of as long as five years and fines, Ashraf el-Ashmawy, a judge overseeing the case in its early stages, told Bloomberg News.
Image source & courtesy – politico.com
Arm twisting still works
Face with such grim news, the US Government pressured Egypt, where it hurt most.
In the past year, Egypt has run through about half its foreign reserves, which hit $16.4 billion in January, the lowest level since December 2004, according to central bank data. Reserves fell almost $2 billion a month, on average, since October. In addition to U.S. aid, the NGO dispute jeopardized Egypt’s plans to seek a $3.2 billion IMF credit. (via U.S.-Egypt Tensions Persist as Democracy Workers Leave Egypt – Bloomberg).
Washington and Cairo may soon end a standoff over 16 American civil society employees facing trial in Egypt, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said as the case’s judges recused themselves.
“We are engaged in very intensive discussions with the Egyptian government about finding a solution,” Clinton said during a Senate hearing. “We’ve had a lot of very tough conversations, and I think we’re … moving toward a resolution.”
Cairo is “coming to understand” Washington was serious when it threatened to cut off $1.55 billion in annual aid to Egypt, she said Tuesday. (via Egypt ‘coming to understand’ US is serious about aid cuts: Clinton – Politics – Egypt – Ahram Online).
The mirror cracked
With some tough judges, the shaky political class in Egypt was at a loss for answers.
Egyptian Cabinet minister Mohammed Amr said the government cannot interfere in the work of the judiciary.
“We are doing our best to contain this but … we cannot actually exercise any influence on the investigating judges,” he reporters at a security conference in Munich, Germany Sunday, before the announcement that charges would be filed against the foreign activists. (via Egypt NGO Trial: Sam LaHood, Ray LaHood’s Son, Among 19 Under Investigation).
After weeks of threats, diplomacy, manoeuvrings, Egyptian Government cracked.
U.S. pro-democracy workers facing trial in Egypt for illegally accepting foreign funds left the country, with the cases against them unresolved and tensions between the two nations still high.
Fifteen workers for non-governmental organizations, including the Americans, departed Cairo in a U.S. government plane after a court lifted their travel ban and their organizations posted bail. The group included Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The U.S. government plane that took off from Cairo carried NGO workers of several different nationalities, including American, Norwegian, Serbian, German, and Palestinian. (via U.S.-Egypt Tensions Persist as Democracy Workers Leave Egypt – Bloomberg).
Under intense political pressure, Egyptian courts set bail at a stupendous amount.
Nuland said the NGOs paid bail, which was set at 2 million Egyptian pounds ($332,000) for each defendant, according to Negad El-Boraie, who represents employees of the International Republican Institute and Freedom House, another U.S.-based civil-society group.(via U.S.-Egypt Tensions Persist as Pro-Democracy Workers Allowed to Leave – Bloomberg).
the money to pay the bail ultimately came from the U.S. government, saying that the Obama administration had agreed to treat the legal expenses stemming from the incident “as part of the activities that the U.S. government funds.”
“The NGOs paid the bail out of money that they received from the U.S. government,” she said. “We agreed to this because the situation arose in the context of the democracy promotion work that they were doing that we had funded and supported.”
Nuland said that it was up to the U.S. citizens who had left to decide whether to return to Egypt to face the charges. (via U.S. government ultimately paid bail for Egypt NGOs | Reuters).
But Egyptian authorities did throw some sand in the works.
Cairo Airport Authority officials this morning prevented a British man involved in the NGO case from leaving the country, reported the Egyptian news publication, Ahram Online.
With one of their kind under threat, the entire US Government machinery creaked and groaned.
According to officials and staffers close to the issue, the bulk of the credit for the progress thus far goes to the administration and first of all Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, who has been working furiously to resolved the crisis in Cairo. Other key officials involved were Brooke Anderson, the National Security Council chief of staff, who was the White House point person on the issue, and Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. The Justice Department and State Department Counselor Harold Koh have also been heavily involved, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey visited Cairo earlier this month and discussed the issue at length.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met twice with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr on the issue last weekend, once on the sidelines of the Somalia conference in London and once on the sidelines of the Friends of Syria conference in Tunis. The State Department also sent a delegation of lawyers to Tunis, an official said on background basis.
According to sources close to the negotiations, in the end the key Egyptian figures who facilitated the deal to were Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Justice Minister Mohamed Abdel Aziz Ibrahim. In fact, U.S. officials believed they finalized the outlines of a deal with those two leaders last week, whereby the judge presiding over the NGO trials would lift the travel ban when the trials opened on Feb. 26. (via Egypt NGO crisis: Don’t pop the champagne corks just yet | The Cable).
Jetsam and flotsam
This has left many hurt egos, bruised feelings and some debris.
The dispute over the non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, has underscored the uncertain state of U.S.-Egypt relations since pro-democracy protests forced out of office President Hosni Mubarak last year. While welcoming the news about the NGO workers, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration doesn’t consider the issue resolved. (via U.S.-Egypt Tensions Persist as Pro-Democracy Workers Allowed to Leave – Bloomberg).
There are some rumblings and upheavals in Egyptian judiciary, that will need some handling.
The presiding judge in the case recused himself on Wednesday without disclosing the reason. This led many to believe that judicial independence had been violated by the authorities.
Several judges have accused Judge Abdel Ezz Ibrahim, the head of the Court of Appeal, of putting pressure on the presiding judge to step down after which the travel ban was lifted.
Some judges who are unhappy with perceived preaches of judicial independence are currently collecting the signatures required to hold a general assembly of the Judges’ Club to look at Judge Ibrahim’s conduct.
In an interview on state TV’s Channel One on Friday, Ibrahim admitted to asking Judge Mohamed Shokri to recuse himself from the case. He claimed there was a conflict of interest because Shokri’s son works in a legal consultancy office that deals with the US embassy.
Shokri refuted Ibrahim’s statement, and stated that he would have recused himself from the start of the case if he had detected any conflicts of interest. He added that he would present an official report to explain why the three commissioned judges overseeing the NGO case resigned. (via US government paid NGO workers’ bail – Politics – Egypt – Ahram Online.).
Egyptian judges are thinking of organizing a revolt.
According to Hisham Raouf, the head of one of the appeals courts, he and several other judges are currently collecting signatures from their colleagues to get the support required to hold the general assembly. The assembly will look into the role played by Judge Abdel Ezz Ibrahim, the head of the Cairo Appeals Court, in the NGO case.
Raouf told Ahram Online that the assembly will consider withdrawing confidence from Ibrahim for putting pressure on the judge presiding over the NGO case to step down.
In an interview on state TV’s Channel One, Ibrahim admitted to asking Judge Mohamed Shokri to recuse himself from the case. According to Ibrahim, there was a conflict of interest, as Shokri’s son works in a legal consultancy office that deals with the US embassy. A statement refuted by judge Shoukri who said he will present an official memo to explain why the three commissioned judges resigned. (via Judges brew a storm around appeals court head who interfered in NGO case – Politics – Egypt – Ahram Online).
A new set of despots – more like puppets, though, are taking position in the Arab world. The first few lessons have been learned.
Next time around …
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