Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Emperor Strikes Back

The Egyptian government took action today against one of the most critical elements of the U.S. democracy initiative. According to the BBC, the government shut down Egyptian operations by the International Republican Institute in Egypt until the group got permission. An Egyptian spokesman accused the local head of the institute, Gina London, of interfering in Egypt's internal affairs.

The same day, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected an effort to cut aid to Egypt. Opponents cited, among other things, the growing human rights crisis in Egypt.

The combination of these two events means that the official U.S. government effort to promote democracy in Egypt, already fairly mortibund, is dead. The half-hearted U.S. government effort, promoted by many well intended diplomats and activists but always undercut by a lack of true U.S. government leverage and its "war on terror," never really had much of a chance. Intellectually, the government has never been able to achieve any kind of credibility in its democracy promotion efforts because of our own record of human rights abuses in the war on terror. Politically, we were always reluctant to force a true showdown on human rights and democracy because of the Egyptian's "moderate" role in relations with Israel and against Islamist extremists.

Despite it's miserable results, I am particularly sad about the crackdown on the IRI. If I were to have one wish, it is that the government concentrated its efforts on providing support to the activists within the country -- which is the IRI's mission. I can't vouch for all of its programs, but its role in providing training and support and to a small degree, funds for Egyptian activists, we were doing the right thing.

When the Egyptian government accuses the IRI of meddling in internal affairs, well, that is what human rights activists do. We meddle. We interfer. But we should always do so on behalf of activists in the country. They are the ones who will make a difference. On the crime of interfering on their behalf, if we are doing the right thing, we should be guilty as charged.

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