Despite a collapsing economy and deteriorating security situation, the Egyptian government appears determined to continue its harassment campaign against foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Sixteen American citizens are awaiting trial in Egypt for accepting foreign money to promote democracy there, and close to 400 Egyptian organizations face similar politically driven investigations. On Capitol Hill, there is growing bipartisan support for ending the $1.3 billion Washington provides in annual military aid to Egypt.
By prosecuting Americans for aiding democracy, all major political forces in Egypt – the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF); the government and the Muslim Brotherhood "are embracing anti-American populism," David Schenker writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Egypt today is dominated by a coalition of military authoritarians and aspiring theocrats that views Washington with great suspicion."
The anti-American atmosphere in Egypt leaves the Obama administration and Congress with stark choices, says Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The United States "can employ the nuclear option – cut the assistance and test the durability of the U.S.-underwritten 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty – or continue to fund an increasingly hostile and unstable state in hopes that democracy will take root," he adds.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met SCAT Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi during a trip to Egypt last week in an unsuccessful effort to defuse the crisis. Dempsey said he asked Tantawi if he was going to "preserve individual freedoms or deny them."
The Egyptian strongman didn't answer.
The prime mover behind the anti-NGO campaign is the SCAF-appointed Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Mohamed Aboulnaga – one of the few high-ranking Mubarak-era officials to have survived last year's revolution.
Just days after Dempsey met with Tantawi, the Egyptian government released a several-months-old report accusing the Obama administration of illicitly funneling cash to pro-democracy groups. Media reports quoted Aboulnaga asserting that the International Republican Institute (whose Egypt program director is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood) aimed to impose the Republican Party's agenda on Egypt. She accused the nonpartisan organization Freedom House, another NGO targeted by Cairo, as doing the work of a "Jewish lobby" targeting countries that criticize U.S. Middle East policy.
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist al-Nour Party have joined Aboulnaga in propagating conspiracy theories. Schenker writes that that a senior Muslim Brotherhood official published an open letter earlier this month warning of an "American-Zionist conspiracy" and claiming U.S. democratization funds had been funneled to "suspicious institutions." Al-Nour officials accused American NGOs of trying to "create discord" between Salafists and the Brotherhood, with one Salafist official saying that NGO workers "can be considered spies."
Read Schenker's article here.