Members of the House of Representatives believe that there is “enough support in Congress to slow, if not halt entirely, economic aid to Egypt” over the conviction of 43 pro-democracy activists, McClatchy reports.
Meanwhile, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood is using NGOs to deliver bread in a characteristically opportunist move to garner public sympathy.
“Though any NGO can get involved, the initiatives play to the Brotherhood’s strengths: the voluntary community work the group has undertaken for decades and its capacity to out-organize its opponents on the street,” Reuters reports:
Gehad El-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, says the group is playing the role of a “scaffold” for a failing state. Critics say the initiative underscores the Brotherhood’s shortcomings in government and is designed to paper over its failings.
“The Brotherhood are under pressure – the pressure of failure in running Egypt – and they are trying to confront it by focusing on everyday life problems,” said Khalil al-Anani, an academic expert on the group at Durham University.
“They don’t trust state institutions. They know there is a kind of resistance. So they prefer to act by themselves to maintain their popularity.”
The prosecution of the NGOs and subsequent verdict reflected the authorities’ “insular attitude” and had the specific goal of dramatically reducing, and perhaps even effectively eliminating international support for independent civil society in Egypt,” said Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute.
We have to stay engaged and support those who want to build a democratic country,” he said in testimony to the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee (above), adding that Egypt was experiencing challenges in which “independent and vibrant civil society” should be engaged in democratic reforms to face the real problems facing Egyptians.
He criticized the verdict as one that represented Egypt’s isolation and “insular attitude.”
In his testimony, Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, compared the democratic transition of Egypt, which can only be described as a “mess” and appears to be headed in the wrong direction, to Tunisia’s, which “we should be modestly optimistic about.”
Democratic transitions can take decades, he said, but some issues raise serious concern, including the draft NGO law and the verdicts in the trial against IRI, NDI, Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
Craner went on to note the “return of the types of strictures on freedom of expression witnessed under the Mubarak regime” that present an “alarming picture in Egypt.” Specifically he noted, the Morsi government was “taking the same narrow, restrictive approach to civil society as the former regime.”
The proceedings against 43 NGO activists were politically motivated, said Charles Dunne (right), director of Middle East programs at Freedom House. But he agreed with other witnesses’ insistence that the US must continue engage Egypt as it goes through its transition.
“It’ll be a long process and a messy process, but it does require outside support,” Dunne said.
The Obama administration is wrong to dismiss the case as a turning point in U.S.-Egyptian relations, said Dunne.
“That’s a mistake. It really is a watershed moment,” he said. “Forty-three people have now been sentenced to prison in Egypt for implementing U.S. government-funded programs. That should be a wakeup call for the administration that not all is well in this relationship.”
The prosecution of the NGOs had “far-reaching impact . . . it has ruined lives,” said Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists, one of the organizations targeted in the crackdown. “The personal toll cannot be underestimated.”
The government’s treatment of NGOs was in “direct contradiction with the principles of democracy,” said Committee member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. She plans to introduce legislation setting conditions on U.S. economic assistance to Egypt in response to the crackdown.
The Obama administration should issue “a more robust public response” to the recent verdicts, says the Working Group on Egypt, a bipartisan group of foreign policy analysts. The court judgment “calls into question whether President Mohamed Morsi, whose government receives more than $1 billion in U.S. aid each year, values good relations with the United States,” it said, adding that the verdict “has troubling implications for the treatment of non-governmental organizations all over the world.”
President Obama should “convey directly to President Morsi, in public and in private, that this matter has harmed relations with the United States and to insist that he clearly demonstrate his commitment to international standards and norms for civil society freedom,” says the group, which is co-chaired by Michele Dunne of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center and Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution It recommends that the administration conduct “a bottom-up review—a long-overdue step—of the Egypt-U.S. relationship. All forms of U.S. assistance (including economic aid, military aid, and support for an International Monetary Fund loan sought by Egypt) should be on the table should President Morsi refuse to address U.S. concerns.”
“Until President Morsi takes meaningful steps to rectify the harm caused by this and other actions against independent civil society, he should not receive the full support of the United States,” said the letter, whose signatories also include Tamara Cofman Wittes , director of the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy; Robert Satloff, executive director of the The Washington Institute; Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy.