Friday, August 12, 2011

Egypt: Obama Blunders With $65 Million In Unwanted Democracy Grants

15 July 2011 - Tahrir Square protests, Photo by Kahlil Hamr/AP

From Denny: President Obama campaigned on how things would change in Washington. Well, he lied. Not much has changed, at least for the better.

The New Egypt

Fast forward to The Egypt Revolution and their transitional government getting its feet wet trying to create a new Egypt. 

What does Obama do? He tries to do what America has always done: patronizingly decide what is good for someone else because we want to give it to you. Of course, foreign country gifts always come with a price tag, now don't they?

Now Obama seems to be equally emotionally tone deaf to their wishes for their own country. The latest move is to give out $65 million in "democracy grants" to anyone who labels themselves a pro-democracy group.

USAID democracy grants

America is ramming down Egypt's throat yet another scenario where America tries to control Egypt through the use of funds. When will the business profiteers ever learn to quit throwing American taxpayer money at third world governments, expecting gratitude and loyalty?

In March the $65 million U.S. campaign started as a way to help Egypt transition to democracy by giving directly to the small groups. It's understandable America wants to watch the money, so they choose to give it directly to the groups but Obama miscalculated how it would be perceived by the transitional government and the military. The national outrage is like a perfect storm of the century.

From Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation, recently returned from Egypt: “During the Mubarak years, officials used anti-American rhetoric for public consumption all the time, and it had no real carryover into the private relationship but I do think this is significant and different and presents a challenge to how the US can operate in the region in terms of bilateral relations. … There’s real tension, and there’s no easy fix for it.”

After less than year on the job, the USAID Egypt director really left this weeek because of intense anti-American sentiment not the "purely internal reasons" like Team Obama is trying to sell.
Egyptian outrage intense against the project

The Egyptian transitional government views distributing funds to unregistered groups as a move to encourage citizens to bypass their current government. That is considered by them to be an affront to national sovereignty.

It didn't take long for the state-run media along with independent newspapers to blare out a string of articles denouncing America's funding. Worse, now Obama has endangered those same pro-democracy groups by casting suspicion upon them. 

New incoming U.S. ambassador to Egypt labeled the "ambassador from hell"

Enter the new incoming U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson.  She has not been well received.  A state-run magazine depicted her as using a wad of American dollars to light an American bomb in Tahrir Square, the iconic place of the Egypt Revolution.  The caption read, "The ambassador from hell lights a fire in Tahrir."  They perceive her as the "ambassador from hell."  Things do not bode well for the Egypt-America relationship at this stage.

What does the State Dept. have to say about this anti-American sentiment?  From spokeswoman Victoria Nuland: “With regard to this kind of anti-Americanism that’s creeping into the Egyptian public discourse, we are concerned.  We think this kind of representation of the United States is not only inaccurate; it’s unfair. We are very strong supporters of Egypt’s transition to a democratic future, and we will continue to be there for Egypt.”

It's no wonder Obama is a lousy negotiator.  But then what do you expect when you have campaign political operatives like smirking Axelrod and Plouffe trying to run a country in the place of Obama?  If Congress got off it's a$$ets and outlawed political operatives working anywhere in an administration they helped elect, we would not get this terrible government we have received under both Obama and Bush (think political operative Karl Rove).

Back to the Egyptian mess.  Now the current Egyptian government is so outraged at the Obama Misstep that they have started investigating Egyptian activist groups who are the aid receipients, publicly accusing them with inciting strife and harming the nation.  Will political prisoners be their next step as is so often the case in the Middle East?

What do the grants provide money for?

* civic awareness and engagement
* access to justice
* capacity building for political parties (trying to get ahead of what are hoped to be Egypt’s first free elections).

The Middle East is a region where America has misstepped for generations, to the tune of 70 years.  It is easy to whip up the populace into a xenophobic sentiment.  Giving money to teach people about building a political party is easily seen as a threat and an insult because it can undermine the current government.  They should have stopped at civic awareness and engagement, assuming they first asked permission to do this project. 

When USAID officials talked about the popularity of the program because "lines were wrapped around the block to apply for the aid" they still didn't understand.  In a country where the average employee is expected to live on only $51 a month, well, of course, they are going to apply for this aid.  I would too facing that kind of poverty and an easy hand out.

The Obama Misstep

USAID never engaged the new Egyptian government or military in this idea - or how it would be implemented - and that just smacks of arrogance and disrespect to them.  U.S. officials only engaged with the pro-democracy groups and political activists to find out their interests. 

They clearly did not relate to - or were sensitive to - the military mind and culture of how to go about setting up a project of this magnitude.  Don't we have any smart diplomats left in the State Dept. to tell Obama the obvious about the Egyptian intense sense of national pride and long-standing resentment of foreign involvement?  Or did they try and got overruled by the political operatives Axelrod and Plouffe who are clueless yet control this presidency?

The Egyptian military don't believe the Egyptian people are actually capable of organizing themselves to this level so they believe there is something else afoot.  They believe outside interests are endeavoring to keep Egypt weak by creating conflict, courtesy of America and Israel who are perceived as interfering in their transitional government and upcoming free elections.

Here is a major sticking point as to why the new transitional government feels threatened by this project:  The majority of the funding - about 85 percent - went to two U.S.-based organizations:  the National Democratic Insititue and the International Republican Institute.  The money is to be used to bolster political parties for the upcoming parliamentary elections to be held in November.

As to other funding, get this:  America gives about $1.3 billion in aid every year to the Egyptian miltitary.  All this big money getting thrown around really does make you wonder if we know what we are doing and what our goals are in this region.

History of American perception in the region

Obviously, this democracy grant project plays as yet another CIA-Pentagon-Big Business operation to the Egyptian people who are accustomed to foreign countries bribing their officials to undermine this government or that in order to gain leverage for profit.

"Do ya think?" Obama could decide to change course on this glaringly obvious tactic? Did it ever occur to this White House to stop and ask the new Egyptian government and various groups if they wanted or actually needed this money? 

From Egyptian political activist Mahmoud Hamdy who participated in protests against the military government in Tahrir Square: "We don't need American help." Hamdy says he does not harbor ill-feelings toward the US but perceives foreign intervention as unnecessary. "We overthrew Mubarak with our own hands. And we will build the new Egypt with our own hands as well."

I can think of better uses for that $65 million you already spent in Egypt for right here in America. Six million homes are in foreclosures, and, for every one getting foreclosed right now there are at least 50 standing behind it to fall victim. 

Spend your money here, Mr. President.  Quit shoving it down the throats of another country that rightfully resents it. Allow them the dignity to find their own way.

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