The architect of Egypt’s crackdown on U.S.-funded pro-democracy non-governmental groups – and a leading holdover of Hosni Mubarak’s regime – will not serve in the new cabinet, reports suggest:
Faiza Abou el-Naga, who had coordinated foreign aid to Egypt for 11 years but recently became a major irritant to the United States, told reporters Thursday she had decided months ago to step down from government after the June election that brought President Mohamed Mursi to power, the official Middle East News Agency reported.
“There is no doubt everybody in Washington is breathing a sigh of relief,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “This was not a workable relationship, and if she had stayed in that position it would have been very difficult to dispense aid effectively.”
As minister for international cooperation, Abou el-Naga (above) had led a campaign against civil society groups over the past year that culminated with charges being brought against 43 employees of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations, including the country directors of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute.
The crackdown sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Cairo and jeopardized $1.3 billion worth of U.S. military aid to Egypt.
The news broke as Mursi received Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on an official visit that may signal a shift in Egypt’s policy on Gaza following the election of a fellow-Islamist head of state in Cairo.
Hamas is the de facto Palestinian affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Mursi’s heart is with Hamas but his mind is elsewhere….He will give them as much as he can but he won’t be able to give them much because his powers are restricted,” Hany al-Masri, a Palestinian analyst, tells Reuters:
Mursi’s victory was celebrated in Gaza as a turning point for a territory whose economy has been choked by a blockade imposed by Israel and in which Egypt took part by stopping everything but a trickle of people from crossing the border. But as head of state, Mursi must balance support for Gaza with the need to respect international commitments, including Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
“He will be very cautious,” said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, an Egyptian analyst. “The intelligence and the military will have their say on this.”
The same caution is affecting the Brotherhood’s approach to Islamic or Sharia law, say observers, as the Islamist group strives “on the one hand, to satisfy the conservative Islamists who supported them at the polling station, while on the other hand to avoid conflict with secular-minded Egyptians and a potent military establishment that opposes radical change.”
“Everything is a subject of compromise and negotiation for the Brotherhood,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist groups based at the UK’s Durham University.
“It realizes that limiting personal freedoms will endanger their political gains,” he said. “At the same time, they will have to satisfy conservative sections of society.”
But some secularist re skeptical of Mursi’s moderate credentials.
“The fear is of destroying the civil state in which citizens are equal… The reassurance message is valueless, because we are seeing what they are doing in reality,” said Refaat el-Saeed, head of Tagammu leftist Party.
But other observers believe that even if it had the inclination to Islamicize society, the Brotherhood lacks the capacity.
“I don’t think anyone, even if he has a 40-year term rather than a four-year term, will have the ability to change society, such that the sharia is implemented with all its comprehensive aspects,” said Ahmad Ahmad, an associate professor of religious studies at Harvard University.
But a more likely scenario is one of compromise by the historically flexible and opportunist Islamist group.
“The Brotherhood will do everything for the sake of power. So they might cross the ideological red lines for political gains,” said Durham University’s Anani.