2012-02-10 "U.S. shouldn't support Egypt's democracy backers" by Emad Mekay from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Emad Mekay is a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. He is the founder of the America in Arabic News Agency.
Washington's decision to defend a handful of Egyptian democracy activists by threatening the other 85 million people of Egypt, an ally for the past 35 years, is a misguided policy.
On one side, there is the solid U.S.-Egyptian cooperation on, for instance, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Arab-Israeli talks. On the other is a small circle of sloganeering politicians on the take from the U.S. government who are unpopular and discredited among their own people.
When these U.S.-funded politicians ran for office in Egypt's first real and democratic elections last month, they lost, leaving Washington with no leverage in the new Egypt. If Washington delivers on its threats to cut aid to Egypt, it is undermining whatever remains of U.S. influence.
WikiLeaks cables show that Washington's democracy push in Egypt was little more than a scam, an operation that shuffled money among a handful of favored embassy contacts who play U.S diplomats like puppets. These secularist politicians do not think the United States cares about democracy, but they keep coming back for more cash - hardly the type of activists you would fight for.
Worse, Washington mounted its efforts through questionable means.
A Feb. 26, 2009, cable shows the then-U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Margret Scobey, writing: "We would like to find a better, less confrontational way to support them."
In the same cable, she wrote: "The money should go to an outside, professional organization such as the National Endowment for Democracy, which has a long-term vision of promoting democracy and would not carry the same political baggage as using ESF (economic support funds)."
On one occasion in 2009, Washington appears to be funneling dollars to the leader of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights, Hafez Abu Seada, through a U.S.-funded non-government agency in Morocco, apparently to wipe out the money trail. Some dictionaries call that money laundering.
Abu Seada is facing an investigation in Egypt for receiving foreign government funding without authorization. Several Americans are facing trial in Egypt for applying this policy. And for whose sake did the State Department cross ethical lines? For Egyptian politicians quoted in the diplomatic cables as warning other Egyptians about the United States - even after they've received U.S. support.
One of them is Hisham Kassem, who just weeks after he had won the 2007 Democracy Award from NED, is cited in an Oct. 30, 2007, diplomatic cable telling another embassy contact, Gameela Ismail, that in the United States, "nobody cares about democracy in Egypt" and that, "if you got arrested, there would not even be a statement released by the USG (U.S. government)."
With his lack of belief in U.S. democracy efforts, you would think Kassem would not ask for more U.S. support. But a June 21, 2009, cable reads: "Kassem urged the Obama administration to invest in building democratic institutions in Egypt."
Washington did. And Kassem now serves on the steering committee of one of NED's U.S.-funded initiatives - the World Movement for Democracy.
Paying any more U.S. tax dollars to duplicitous Egyptian politicians with suspect democracy credentials at the expense of a fruitful strategic relationship with Egypt is money down the drain. Oddly, Congress and the U.S. State Department are now fighting for that waste to go on.