In Egypt, Our Military Surrogates Crack Down on Our Civil Society Surrogates

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces raided 17 civil society and human rights groups yesterday, in some cases holding staffers at the NGO offices as the raid proceeded. The raid has the odd effect of pitting the Generals we’ve mentored and funded–to the tune of billions–against civil society experts we’ve also funded, through State Department funding streams.

The orchestrated move by Egypt’s generals, apparently keen to play up to anti-US and nationalist feelings in the country, will be seen as highly provocative in Washington, which underwrites military aid to Egypt to the sum of $1.3bn (£843m) annually.

“We are deeply concerned,” a State Department official told the Guardian.

And I suspect this won’t be the end of the demonizing of civil society NGOs. After all, these NGOs have been involved, for years, in training some of the activists who went on to lead the revolution. Even some of the activists (who may have been state operatives) have accused those with ties to these NGOs of “treason.” The State Department developed an explicit plan to foster reform in Egypt through these NGOs five years ago.

Technical support to legal political parties through IRI and NDI: Having assessed the elections, the institutes now recognize what the parties need. The NDP will likely not participate with other parties in the room, so it may be necessary to develop separate tracks in the program for the ruling party and the opposition. Even with the NDP on board, we can expect blowback by anti-reform elements. The institutes should keep their programs low-key and the USG apprised. Their programs should incorporate the full range of Egypt’s civil rights priorities, such as bringing more women and Christians into the political process. The 2007 Shura elections and the 2008 local council elections–and the development of the legislation promised to reform the later–will be the key medium-term tests. In addition to continued support for international implementers like NDI and IRI, we should also proceed with supporting additional engagement on Egypt by additional international NGOs such as Transparency International, Freedom House, and the American Bar Association.

So SCAF will presumably find plenty of “evidence” that the US supported democratic reform, in part, by supporting these organizations (though State has been pressuring the government directly as well, both under Mubarak and since).

And all that’s before you consider the past role that the International Republican Institute has had in regime change efforts like the attempted 2002 coup against Huge Chavez and the 2004 ouster of Jean-Betrand Aristide.

The point is not that our support of these NGOs is wrong (specific qualms about IRI and, to a lesser degree, Freedom House aside). Rather, it’s that the military leaders we’ve been sponsoring for years cannot distinguish between support for democratization and opposition to their rule. And that, in turn, can easily be spun as an opposition to Egyptian security, particularly given how much the US has turned Islamic terrorism into an all-powerful bogeyman.

It all seems so familiar, given our difficulty getting cooperation from our military surrogates in Pakistan.

Nevertheless, these very vivid examples of how paying to strengthen militarized authoritarians in “allied” countries can backfire didn’t stop us from finalizing a $30 billion deal with Saudi Arabia for F-15s yesterday, the same day of this SCAF raid.

11 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    In spite of decades of incontrovertible evidence that the US’s attempts to influence events and outcomes in other countries has been a string of unintended consequences and endless failures, there has never been, and apparently will never be, an awakening moment or a dawning realization in US policy circles that the resources we expend are too often dwarfed by the costs incurred in the target nation.

    The self-serving bromide that will always be rolled out is “it’s the thought that counts.”

  2. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Well there are multiple means of influence. There’s funding and outfitting militaries (or police forces, where we provide the tear gas used to break up demonstrations). There’s covert ops to either buy or steal elections. And there are the multiple means we use to support self-representation (usually through State).

    Every time I grow close to saying we should get rid of all of this influence, I remember that it worked reasonably well in Eastern Europe, particularly insofar as in some countries we didn’t pick the winners. That was true, at least, until our banksters came in and installed extreme forms of capitalism that ended up wasting limited resources.

    I’m not totally opposed to America, at least the country that supports self-representation, supporting those trying to organize their own lives. It’s just that it’s increasingly undercut both by our empire and by our stupid economic imperialism.

  3. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: I mainly agree with you in spite of my previous comment. I think it is probably just our human nature to try to “help” others.

    But that said, I can’t help but recognize the countless times our “help” ends up hurting.

    And to your point about “our stupid economic imperialism”, I would add that even with our well-intentioned “democratic imperialism”, we literally have no control over unintended consequences.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Actually, I’d be MORE happy if that were entirely true. I’m somewhat support of self-government regardless of the outcomes. I think it’s because we try to control the outcomes (keeping out the Muslim Brotherhood, for example) that tends to radicalize groups and make them more dangerous.

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    @MadDog: There have certainly been unintended consequences over the years, but I believe many do not appreciate the degree to which the US backs multiple governmental players, “owns” them, and in the end, wins whichever societal group comes to the fore (as long as the US had assets there).

    So State backs NGOs, but CIA may be training police, while military aid goes to military dictator wanna-bes. Meanwhile, through USAID, or even AFL-CIO contacts, ostensible labor leaders are being suborned. Even “terrorists” can be backed, should it be thought worth the insurance.

    This doesn’t take much research to divine. Indeed, popular culture itself has recognized as much. (As an example, see LeCarre’s Our Man in Panama, or Graham Greene’s novel or recent film version of The Quiet American. For an older, but brilliant example, read Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent.)

    Another example that Jeff Stein reported (and I tried to promote the story) was the discovery that the US was training security forces in Sudan, even as State had put Sudan on the short list of “state sponsors of terrorism”.

    So, it is no surprise to see the generals attacking the NGOs as they try to consolidate their rule. And should they fail, well the NGO leaders nurtured by the US will also do nicely to support US and allied aims. Does the US prefer one over another? Perhaps. In the end, they are not too concerned, as the decades of military rule have eviscerated any real independent opposition from the left, and that’s really what concerned them. The US has already demonstrated they are just fine with militant fundamentalist Islam (as in Saudi Arabia), as long as the leadership of such parties and groups are content not to challenge the rule of the oligarchs.

    The Tahrir Square protesters, just like the OWS protesters in the US and Britain, despite their personal courage and subjective opposition to the status quo, have absolutely no program that would threaten the rule of their rulers. In fact, as the more liberal rulers understand, it is a good way to blow off steam. (They always have the iron glove in waiting, just in case.)

  6. eCAHNomics says:

    Hi Marcy,

    Do you know your name has been immortalized in Barry Eisler’s novel Inside Out? Marcy Wheeler is the ‘widow’ (of Daniel Larison, the protagonist) who faked his death during Bhutto assassination and is trying to blackmail USG for $100 million of small uncut diamonds in exchange for 92 torture tapes. Name first appears on p. 60.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @eCAHNomics: Yup. I even had a great flight w/Juan Cole to DC where we talked about being fictional characters. I joke w/Barry now about being one of the few characters of his that got neither laid nor killed over the course of the book.

    But if you think about it, I’m the legal (though not the proper) heir to all those diamonds that Larison got in Eisler’s most recent book. Maybe I’ll work out to get rich!!

  8. rugger9 says:

    It does however present the opportunity for the Obama WH to do the right thing and support the civilians. After all, civilian control is enshrined in the US Constitution over the military arm. There’s many reasons the Founders did that, in addition to requiring military spending be re-authorized every two years.

  9. eCAHNomics says:

    @emptywheel: Since I typed that comment, I had an outing, so haven’t read any more. But I think there are ofter bloggers’ names he plagiarized too. But it was very funny to exactly when I first saw your name that I thought, OMG, I know who she is. And it’s allegedly fiction.

  10. vector56 says:

    One thing that makes me nuts is this notion that we Americans are “well meaning bumbling idiots and not evil spoiled rotten children that think humanity is our play thing! We took the lives of a million plus in Iraq (a country that did not attack us) and debate if we owe them an apology; 3 million in Vietnam (another country that did not attack us)and to quote Carlin “we left a few of them alive and have not felt good about ourselves since!” For 30 years Mubarak and the Army we paid for has keep a boot on the necks of the Egyptian people, yet we still pretend to be neutral?

Comments are closed.