Posts Tagged ‘funding’

‘God moved the Americans’ minds… they are helping, arming & funding us. They are an instrument of the holy cause.”

June 14th, 2012 Comments off

“…Yusef is set to leave for Syria to fight Bashar al-Assad’s unholy regime. Other young Tunisians have already joined the jihad, recruited in the city’s most radical mosques, and given a ticket to Turkey, along with directions on how to reach the army of rebels. “There are many other brothers: Egyptian, Libyan, Algerian,” says Yusef. Similar international Muslim brigades fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia.Yusef doesn’t look at us as he lays out his life story: poverty, the school, petty crimes to survive — and finally the revolution.
He is one among many other “ street thugs” from the slums who have kept the revolution alive in the streets, under the blows and tear gas. When asked if he is scared of a war which, at the end of the day is not his own, the boy suddenly comes to life: “ You don’t know anything,” he says. “Fear, courage… My strength is not in weapons. It is inside. I am an instrument. Muslims had become dependent on the things that you gave and taught us. This is our rebirth. How can we be afraid of a tyrant’s army? Don’t you see that God is helping us? God moved the Americans’ minds. The Americans are helping, arming and funding us. They are an instrument of the holy cause.”
I wonder if Yusef knows that a few days ago two other young Tunisian men were captured with explosives and weapons and paraded on Syrian television. Maybe he does, but it does not matter……

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Spend all you want, the Zionist entity is going down

March 29th, 2012 Comments off
“Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is pushing for congressional funding to ship more Iron Dome missile defense systems to Israel.  “The Department of Defense has been in conversations with … Israel about U.S. support for the acquisition of additional Iron Dome systems and intends to request an appropriate level of funding from Congress to support such acquisitions based on Israeli requirements and production capacity,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement released Tuesday.”

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Tomgram: Stephan Salisbury, Weaponizing the Body Politic

March 5th, 2012 Comments off

Stephen Salisbury writes at Tomdispatch

How to Fund an American Police State
Real Money for an Imaginary War
By Stephan Salisbury

At the height of the Occupy Wall Street evictions, it seemed as though some diminutive version of “shock and awe” had stumbled from Baghdad, Iraq, to Oakland, California. American police forces had been “militarized,” many commentators worried, as though the firepower and callous tactics on display were anomalies, surprises bursting upon us from nowhere.

There should have been no surprise. Those flash grenades exploding in Oakland and the sound cannons on New York’s streets simply opened small windows onto a national policing landscape long in the process of militarization — a bleak domestic no man’s land marked by tanks and drones, robot bomb detectors, grenade launchers, tasers, and most of all, interlinked video surveillance cameras and information databases growing quietly on unobtrusive server farms everywhere.

The ubiquitous fantasy of “homeland security,” pushed hard by the federal government in the wake of 9/11, has been widely embraced by the public. It has also excited intense weapons- and techno-envy among police departments and municipalities vying for the latest in armor and spy equipment.

In such a world, deadly gadgetry is just a grant request away, so why shouldn’t the 14,000 at-risk souls in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have a closed-circuit-digital-camera-and-monitor system (cost: $180,000, courtesy of the Homeland Security Department) identical to the one up and running in New York’s Times Square?

So much money has gone into armoring and arming local law-enforcement since 9/11 that the federal government could have rebuilt post-Katrina New Orleans five times over and had enough money left in the kitty to provide job training and housing for every one of the record 41,000-plus homeless people in New York City. It could have added in the growing population of 15,000 homeless in Philadelphia, my hometown, and still have had money to spare. Add disintegrating Detroit, Newark, and Camden to the list. Throw in some crumbling bridges and roads, too.

But why drone on? We all know that addressing acute social and economic issues here in the homeland was the road not taken. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security alone has doled out somewhere between $30 billion and $40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, as well as other first responders. At the same time, defense contractors have proven endlessly inventive in adapting sales pitches originally honed for the military on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the desires of police on the streets of San Francisco and lower Manhattan. Oakland may not be Basra but (as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say) there are always the unknown unknowns: best be prepared.

All told, the federal government has appropriated about $635 billion, accounting for inflation, for homeland security-related activities and equipment since the 9/11 attacks. To conclude, though, that “the police” have become increasingly militarized casts too narrow a net. The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilized and militarized right down to the university campus.

Perhaps the pepper spray used on Occupy demonstrators last November at University of California-Davis wasn’t directly paid for by the federal government. But those who used it work closely with Homeland Security and the FBI “in developing prevention strategies that threaten campus life, property, and environments,” as UC Davis’s Comprehensive Emergency and Continuity Management Plan puts it.

Government budgets at every level now include allocations aimed at fighting an ephemeral “War on Terror” in the United States. A vast surveillance and military buildup has taken place nationwide to conduct a pseudo-war against what can be imagined, not what we actually face. The costs of this effort, started by the Bush administration and promoted faithfully by the Obama administration, have been, and continue to be, virtually incalculable. In the process, public service and the public imagination have been weaponized.

Farewell to Peaceful Private Life

We’re not just talking money eagerly squandered. That may prove the least of it. More importantly, the fundamental values of American democracy — particularly the right to lead an autonomous private life — have been compromised with grim efficiency. The weaponry and tactics now routinely employed by police are visible evidence of this.

Yes, it’s true that Montgomery County, Texas, has purchased a weapons-capable drone. (They say they’ll only arm it with tasers, if necessary.) Yes, it’s true that the Tampa police have beefed the force up with an eight-ton armored personnel carrier, augmenting two older tanks the department already owns. Yes, the Fargo police are ready with bomb detection robots, and Chicago boasts a network of at least 15,000 interlinked surveillance cameras.

New York City’s 34,000-member police force is now the ground zero of a growing outcry over rampant secret spying on Muslim students and communities up and down the East coast. It has been a big beneficiary of federal security largess. Between 2003 and 2010, the city received more than $1.1 billion through Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative grant program. And that’s only one of the grant programs funneling such money to New York.

The Obama White House itself has directly funded part of the New York Police Department’s anti-Muslim surveillance program. Top officials of New York’s finest have, however, repeatedly refused to disclose just how much anti-terrorism money it has been spending, citing, of course, security.

Can New York City ever be “secure”? Mayor Michael Bloomberg boasted recently with obvious satisfaction: “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh largest army in the world.” That would be the Vietnamese army actually, but accuracy isn’t the point. The smugness of the boast is. And meanwhile the money keeps pouring in and the “security” activities only multiply.

Why, for instance, are New York cops traveling to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Newark, New Jersey, to spy on ordinary Muslim citizens, who have nothing to do with New York and are not suspected of doing anything? For what conceivable purpose does Tampa want an eight-ton armored vehicle? Why do Texas sheriffs north of Houston believe one drone — or a dozen, for that matter — will make Montgomery County a better place? What manner of thinking conjures up a future that requires such hardware? We have entered a dark world that demands an inescapable battery of closed-circuit, networked video cameras trained on ordinary citizens strolling Michigan Avenue.

This is not simply a police issue. Law enforcement agencies may acquire the equipment and deploy it, but city legislators and executives must approve the expenditures and the uses. State legislators and bureaucrats refine the local grant requests. Federal officials, with endless input from national security and defense vendors and lobbyists, appropriate the funds.

Doubters are simply swept aside (while legions of security and terrorism pundits spin dread-inducing fantasies), and ultimately, the American people accept and live with the results. We get what we pay for — Mayor Bloomberg’s “army,” replicated coast to coast.

Budgets Tell the Story

Militarized thinking is made manifest through budgets, which daily reshape political and bureaucratic life in large and small ways. Not long after the 9/11 attacks, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, used this formula to define the new American environment and so the thinking that went with it: “Terrorist operatives infiltrate our communities — plotting, planning, and waiting to kill again.” To counter that, the government had urgently embarked on “a wartime reorganization,” he said, and was “forging new relationships of cooperation with state and local law enforcement.”

While such visionary Ashcroftian rhetoric has cooled in recent years, the relationships and funding he touted a decade ago have been institutionalized throughout government — federal, state, and local — as well as civil society. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, with a total 2012 budget of about $57 billion, is the most obvious example of this.

That budget only hints at what’s being doled out for homeland security at the federal level. Such moneys flow not just from Homeland Security, but from the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commerce Department, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Defense.

In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget reckoned that 31 separate federal agencies were involved in homeland security-related funding that year to the tune of more than $65 billion. The Census Bureau, which has itself been compromised by War on Terror activities — mapping Middle Eastern and Muslim communities for counter-terrorism officials — estimated that federal homeland security funding topped $70 billion in 2010. But government officials acknowledge that much funding is not included in that compilation. (Grants made through the $5.6 billion Project BioShield, to offer but one example, an exotic vaccination and medical program launched in 2004, are absent from the total.)

Even the estimate of more than $635 billion in such expenditures does not tell the full spending story. That figure does not include the national intelligence or military intelligence budgets for which the Obama Administration is seeking $52.6 billion and $19.6 billion respectively in 2013, or secret parts of the national security budget, the so-called black budget.

Local funding is also unaccounted for. New York’s Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly claims total national homeland security spending could easily be near a trillion dollars. Money well spent, he says — New York needs that anti-terror army, the thousands of surveillance cameras, those sophisticated new weapons, and, naturally, a navy that now includes six drone submarines (thanks to $540,000 in Homeland Security cash) to keep an eye on the terrorist threat beneath the waves.

And even that’s not enough.

“We have a new boat on order,” Kelly said recently, alluding to a bullet-proof vessel paid for by, yes, Homeland Security (cost unspecified). “We envision a situation where we may have to get to an island or across water quickly, so we’re able to transport our heavy weapons officers rapidly. We have to do things differently. We know that this is where terrorists want to come.”

With submarines available to those who protect and serve (and grab the grant money), a simple armored SWAT carrier should hardly raise an eyebrow. The Tampa police will get one as part of their security buildup before the city hosts the Republican convention this summer. Tampa and Charlotte, which will host the Democratic convention, each received special $50 million security allocations from Congress to “harden” the cities.

Marc Hamlin, Tampa’s assistant police chief, told the Tampa city council that two old tanks, already owned and operated by the police, were simply not enough. They were just too unreliable. “Thank God we have two, because one seems to break down every week,” he lamented.

Not everyone on the council seemed convinced Tampa needed a truck sheathed in 1.5-inch high-grade steel, and featuring ballistic glass panels, blast shields, and powered turrets. City Council Vice Chairwoman Mary Mulhern claimed she found the purchase “kind of troubling,” a sign that Tampa is becoming “militarized.” Then she voted to approve it anyway, along with the other council members. Hamlin was pleased. “It’s one of those things where you prepare for the worst, and you hope for the best,” he explained.

When Mulhern suggested that some of the windfall $50 million might be used to help the city’s growing homeless population, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn set her straight. “We can’t be diverted from what the appropriate use of that money is, and that is to provide a safe environment for the convention. It’s not to be used for pet projects or things totally unrelated to security.”

Tampa will also be spending more than $1 million for state of the art digital video uplinks to surveillance helicopters. (“Analog technology is almost Stone Age,” commented one approving council member.) Another $2 million will go to install 60 surveillance cameras on city streets. That represents an uncharacteristic pullback from the city’s initial plan to acquire more than 230 cameras as well as two drones at a cost of about $5 million. Even the police deemed that too expensive — for the moment.

All of this hardware will remain in Tampa after the Republicans and any protestors are long gone. What use will it serve then? In the Tampa area, the armored truck will join the armored fleet, police officials said, ferrying SWAT teams on calls and protecting police serving search warrants. In the past, Hamlin claimed, Tampa’s tanks have been shot at. He did not mention that crime rates in Tampa and across Florida are at four-decade lows.

The video surveillance cameras will, of course, also stay in place, streaming digitized images to an ever-growing database, where they will be stored waiting for the day when facial recognition software is employed to mix and match. This strategy is being followed all over the country, including in Chicago, with its huge video surveillance network, and New York City, where all of lower Manhattan is now on camera.

Tampa has already been down this road once in the post-9/11 era. The city was home to a much-watched experiment in using such software. Images taken by cameras installed on the street were to be matched with photographs in a database of suspects. The system failed completely and was scrapped in 2003. On the other hand, sheriffs in the Tampa Bay area are currently using facial recognition software to match photographs snapped by police on the street with a database of suspects with outstanding warrants. Police are excited by that program and look forward to its future expansion.

The Rise of the Fusion Centers

Homeland Security has played a big role in creating one particularly potent element in the nation’s expanding database network. Working with the Department of Justice in the wake of 9/11, it launched what has grown into 72 interlinked state “fusion centers” — repositories for everything from Immigration Customs Enforcement data and photographs to local police reports and even gossip. “Suspicious Activity Reports” gathered from public tipsters — thanks to Homeland Security’s “if you see something, say something” program — are now flowing into state centers. Those fusion centers are possibly the greatest facilitators of dish in history, and have vast potential for disseminating dubious information and stigmatizing purely political activity. And most Americans have never even heard of them.

Yet fusion centers now operate in every state, centralizing intelligence gathering and facilitating dissemination of material of every sort across the country. Here is where information gathered by cops and citizens, FBI agents and immigration officers goes to fester. It is a staggering load of data, unevenly and sometimes questionably vetted, and it is ultimately available to any state or local law-enforcement officer, any immigration agent or official, any intelligence or security bureaucrat with a computer and network access.

The idea for these centers grew from the notion that agencies needed to share what they knew in an “unfettered” environment. How comforting to know that the walls between intelligence and law enforcement are breached in an essentially unregulated fashion.

Many other states have monitored antiwar activists, gathering and storing names and information. Texas and other states have stored “intelligence” on Muslims. Pennsylvania gathered reports on opponents of natural gas drilling. Florida has scrutinized supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul. The list of such questionable activities is very long. We have no idea how much dubious data has been squirreled away by authorities and remains within the networked system. But we do know that information pours into it with relative ease and spreads like an oil slick. Cleaning up and removing the mess is another story entirely.

Anyone who wants to learn something about fusion center funding will also find it maddeningly difficult to track. Not even the Homeland Security Department can say with certainty how much of its own money has gone into these data nests over the last decade. The amounts are staggering, however. From 2004 to 2009 alone, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that states used about $426 million in Homeland Security Department grants to fund fusion-related activities nationally. The centers also receive state and local funds, as well as funds from other federal agencies. How much? We don’t know, although GAO data suggest state and local funding at least equals the Homeland Security share.

Yet, as Tampa, New York City, and other urban areas bulk up with high-tech anti-terrorism equipment and fusion centers have proliferated, the number of even remotely “terror-related” incidents has declined. The equipment acquired and projects inaugurated to fend off largely imaginary threats is instead increasingly deployed to address ordinary criminal activity, perceived political disruptions, and the tracking and surveillance of American Muslims. The Transportation Safety Administration is now even patrolling highways. It could be called a case of mission creep, but the more accurate description might be: bait-and-switch.

The chances of an American dying in a terrorist incident in a given year are 1 in 3.5 million. To reduce that risk, to make something minuscule even more minuscule, what has the nation spent? What has it cost us? Instead of rebuilding a ravaged American city in a timely fashion or making Americans more secure in their “underwater” homes and their disappearing jobs, we have created militarized police forces, visible evidence of police-state-style funding.

Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a TomDispatch regular. His most recent book is Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Salisbury discusses post-9/11 police “mission creep” in this country, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

[Note on Sources and Further Reading: The following documents can all be found in pdf format by clicking on “here”: the UC Davis Comprehensive Emergency Management plan here, Census Bureau figures on Homeland Security spending here, a report on questionable fusion center actions here, the GAO report on fusion centers here, a report on the decline in the terrorist threat here, and Congressional testimony favoring counterterrorism “mission creep” here.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Stephan Salisbury

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In Translation: Nabil Fahmy on the US-Egypt NGO crisis

February 29th, 2012 Comments off

A few days ago the trial of 43 NGO workers — some of them US citizens — started amidst a campaign of hysterical anti-Americanism in some of the Egyptian press. In the US, the question has been handled with arrogance by part of the political class, and no doubt a degree of alarm amidst defense lobbyists, Pentagon officials and others who worry that the crisis could end the $1.3bn in subsidies to the US defense industry that military aid to Egypt primarily is, as well as strategic relations with Egypt. While the tone become more subdued among senior officials on both sides, the outcome is still hard to predict — because everything is unpredictable in Egypt these days, and because the US is in an election year.

One of the calmest, down-to-earth Egyptian commentaries on the affair I’ve seen is by Nabil Fahmy, who was Egypt’s ambassador in Washington for much of the late Mubarak period — notably when tensions with the Bush administration were at their highest. In this piece, Fahmy gives his opinion that the crisis will be overcome, and reflects on the mistakes made by both sides. He is most lucid when look at his own side, though, notably the arbitrary nature of the enforcement of NGO legislation that belong to the pre-revolutionary era. Fahmy is sometimes said to be a potential future foreign minister, and some believe he was sidelined (or chose to take a leave of absence from the ministry of foreign affairs) at the end of his career, as the Mubarak era entered its last phase.

The article was, as always, ably translated by Industry Arabic, the full-service translation company. Those guys are awesome!

Egyptian-American Relations after the NGO Crisis

By Nabil Fahmy, al-Shorouk, 26 February 2012

In recent weeks, we have witnessed extreme strain in Egyptian-American relations. In the sphere of public opinion in both countries, this crisis has been accompanied by demagoguery exploited by politicians and media personalities, as well as some officials. They have carelessly reported inaccurate information, or adopted slogans and demands that are not in their countries’ best interests.

I will not go into the charges leveled against a number of both foreign and Egyptian NGOs, as well as against governments in detail, as they have now been put before the court. Rather, I will first limit myself to some brief observations before moving on to the most important issue, which is the future of Egyptian-American relations.

The most important of these observations is:

The dispute raging over NGO activity is first and foremost about the post-revolution relationship between the Egyptian authorities and Egyptian and foreign NGOs. We must quickly pass a new law regulating NGO activity so as to facilitate and broaden their activities in a way consistent with a climate of democracy, whose basis should be responsiveness and facilitating their activity, while ensuring transparency and accountability. If we have adjusted and amended the political parties law, we also need to adjust and amend the law for NGOs. Enough with the excessive constraints, enough with laws and legislation that ban NGO activity at some times, and opens the door for the same activities under the law regulating companies at other times – not to mention allowing Egyptian or foreign civil society organizations to work without permits or accountability as the authorities see fit.

As long as the Egyptian economy remains limited and contracted, most NGO funding will come from abroad, and it is illogical to try and block this funding until a local alternative is available. If the government and the private sector can try to obtain foreign loans and grants, how can NGOs be barred from doing the same thing? Therefore, the issue is not whether or not to ban funding; rather, it is about putting in place arrangements to guarantee complete transparency and determine extremely narrow sectors that are banned from receiving foreign funding, such as election campaigns, party programs, etc.

All the foreign actors – both governmental and non-governmental – made a mistake when they provided funding and set up NGO branches in Egypt without getting permits. This includes both American and European bodies, as well as those from other nations. I will add, though, that the United States in particular committed an error as well, since an Egyptian-American agreement has been in place since 2005, which regulates NGO funding. The American side, however, completely ignored it even though they signed the agreement.

If the foreign actors have erred, then we too in Egypt are also in the wrong. We are in the wrong because we have let foreign organizations work in Egypt – German and American organizations, among others – from anywhere between 30 and five years. The Egyptian government has made contracts with them, even though they did not obtain permits. So if we do not respect our own laws, or apply them only now and then according to the way the political wind is blowing, then it is only natural that other parties will disregard these laws, regardless of whether they have good or bad intentions. Moreover, we are also in the wrong because we have not applied the law equally across the board when we have decided to enforce the law, and we opened up space again for a tug of war between foreign NGOs and international financiers. The time has come for Egypt to amend its NGO laws, and the time has come for us to apply these laws fully and rigorously to everyone, and I hope that this will take place now and without delay.

It would have been possible to protect Egypt’s sovereignty, Egypt’s national security, and communal stability in Egypt through strict enforcement of the law without indulging either side. I was among those who were calling for this the most. Before the revolution, however, we heard how foreign and Egyptian NGOs were being exploited in political maneuvers that created practical arrangements on the ground. As a result, it would have been better after the revolution to freeze the activity of all unlicensed or illegal civil society organizations until a new law came out in Egypt regulating civil society activity and giving them a grace period to straighten out their status during the freeze. This would be so that we do not turn a blind eye to any illegal activity in Egypt, and to prevent those who have decided to antagonize Egyptian or foreign NGOs in particular from emerging on the scene – especially after a revolution whose rallying cry was freedom and democracy.

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It is noteworthy that this crisis has provoked various intense reactions and comments within Egypt about the relationship between Egypt and the United States – including calls to reject the American aid allocated for Egypt. The focus and the gesturing has been directed chiefly against the United States, despite the fact that foreign funding from other countries as well has gone to Egyptian NGO projects, and even some non-American NGOs have been indicted. The main reason for this is that there are American aid programs for Egypt, and American officials have been waving these up in the air as a pressure point to influence decision-making in Egypt, and this has been met in Egypt by calls to forego this assistance.

I hope to see the day when Egypt has no need of aid from any foreign country, and I add that whatever the benefits of aid or the need for it in the short term, for this aid to last in perpetuity creates an unnatural and harmful situation. The side offering the aid – i.e., the U.S. – inevitably expects this investment to bring about a favorable political and economic climate, even if it does not try to use it as a means of direct pressure. Meanwhile, the side receiving this perpetual aid – i.e., Egypt – relies on it as easy revenue, which causes the country not to try to develop its own potential with the necessary efficiency, and diversify its available alternatives so as to achieve a greater amount of stability and revenue. For this reason, I support gradually relinquishing U.S. aid to Egypt, provided that this takes place according to a timetable consistent with Egypt’s real needs, and not as reaction to a dispute over some issue or another. However, if this aid is used unabashedly to bring Egypt’s political decisions into line, we have to take a stand there, regardless of the decision’s material cost.

We did not get American aid in return for giving up our rights in the framework of the peace accord between Egypt and Israel, regardless of the fact that America disbursed this aid to bolster the peace process between Egypt and Israel in both the political and economic realm. Hence, if Egypt wishes to review the peace agreement with Israel, specifically the part dealing with security arrangements – which is a necessity – it should not be linked to the continuance or suspension of American aid to Egypt, since the goal of comprehensive peace between the Arab world and Israel has to be upheld whether or not aid is on the table. Moreover, the security arrangements of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel have to be revised even if this means a reduction in American aid to Egypt.

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Personally, I do not think that American aid to Egypt will be canceled because of the dispute taking place over NGOs, because it is part of a calculated investment made by the U.S. to advance American interests along with benefitting Egypt. However, there will naturally be various repercussions from the current strain in relations between Egypt and the U.S.. It will be difficult for the American administration to give an accurate statement to Congress – especially during an election year in the U.S. – that Egypt is taking practical steps towards democracy when international and Egyptian NGOs are under attack, the American parties in particular. Therefore, the current crisis between Egypt and the U.S. will have repercussions of varying degrees on the relationship between the two countries and the aid provided. This all depends on many considerations, chiefly the decisions and verdicts reached by the Egyptian justice system in the cases brought forward. For example, if the Egyptian court hands down verdicts against the organizations charged as institutions that have been in place for a long time, I think that this crisis can be overcome. However, if a decision comes down against the bureau chiefs in their organizational capacities, the American response will no doubt be more robust during an election year. By pointing this out, I do not mean to call for the Egyptian justice system to be interfered with — as this is contrary to my long-held convictions and stances — but rather I am simply trying to predict the future, so that we will be fully informed about the situation and prepared for it.

Honesty bids me say that each party is in the wrong in its handling of the current civil society issue: Western countries and in particular the U.S. for their arrogance and indifference to Egyptian law, and Egypt for its inconsistent and non-application of the law, then its shifting from one direction to another without warning or prior notice. As a result, there will be repercussions for Egypt’s image abroad and its relationship with the parties concerned, regardless of how these events turn out. However, despite the disturbances we are now witnessing in Egypt, I have a deeply-rooted conviction that the Egyptian revolution will strengthen and bolster Egypt’s standing in the world. This is despite the fact that the rousing of Egypt’s voice in all its diversity and divergent views – including the so-called “Islamist current” – will prompt questions and delicate calculations domestically within Egypt, in its broader role as an Arab and an Islamic country, and in our relationship with the international community. Naturally, this will have an impact on our relationship with the United States, Israel, etc.

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This issue and many others will crop up in our relationship with the U.S., and both the Egyptian and the foreign side – including the U.S. – will have to deal with the other sensitively and adroitly in order to safeguard the country’s best interests and respect the political mood of the people. This will have to be done without falling into the trap of an artificial stability that leads to stagnation or irresponsible populist polemics, as political parties strive to outdo one another in one country or the other.

Egypt is a great nation in the region, and will recover her lost vigor and her sway and influence, as well as her pioneering intellectual role in the march of revolution and calls for freedom and democracy. It is in Egypt’s interest to safeguard her own interests by dealing confidently with the world, including the U.S. Likewise, it is in America’s interest finally to deal with the Arab peoples with respect, openness, and understanding, especially the Egyptian people that make up one-fourth of the inhabitants of the Middle East. The U.S. will not be able to safeguard its own strategic, economic and security interests – especially in creating a climate that is not hostile to the West in the Arab and Islamic worlds – and will not be able to safeguard the Arab-Israeli peace process and protect minorities in the Middle East unless it deals with peoples the way it used to deal with governments in the past. Due to all these considerations, I expect Egyptian-American relations to face a crisis in the short term that has consequences for both sides as a result of missteps committed by both sides. However, I am confident that relations between us will be better in the long term if each of us respects the other – both governments and peoples – and we apply fixed standards in our conduct and relations.

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Egypt ‘to try foreign NGO staff’

February 5th, 2012 Comments off

Egypt says it is to try at least 40 people – including Americans and other foreigners – over the alleged illegal funding of non-governmental organisations.
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On the US-Egypt NGO debacle

January 28th, 2012 Comments off

First US, German and Egyptian NGOs were raided in late December, and now US personnel that has been unable to work in Cairo because their equipment has been confiscated are barred from leaving the country, prompting outrage in the US. Congress is now putting emphasis again on the need for conditionality on US aid to the military, and the likes of Senator Patrick Leahy now say “But we no longer have a blank check for the Egyptian military.” A high-level delegation is now coming from Washington to defuse tensions.

There is a lot at stake in this first major spat between the US and Egypt since Mubarak is overthrown, and it’s gotten a lot more complicated than when it was just about Egyptian reticence to allow uncontrolled foreign funding and getting a bargaining chip over the military aid issue. Whether it is the real cause of the travel ban, there is a judicial process in the works, a real issue of sovereignty for Egypt. And there is what is interpreted an attempt by SCAF to cast activists as foreign-funded, distract from Gulf financing which may be overlooked (very few of the NGOs under investigation are Gulf-funded ones, despite widespread knowledge of millions being channeled to Islamic charities). NDI and IRI’s quasi-governmental aspect (they receive much of their funding through the National Endowment for Democracy and the US government) is one aspect of the problem, but so is the general legal limbo they have operated under for several years (it is true they are unregistered, but that’s because they were not allowed to so yet tolerated), as well as their more aggressive funding posture since the revolution and a certain amount of tone-deafness to Egyptian officials’ concerns about sovereignty.

This is a difficult issue because, as much as democracy-promotion might seem beyond reproach, the sovereignty issue is real: as an American (or Moroccan) I certainly wouldn’t want uncontrolled foreign government funding of charities and NGOs, particularly politicized ones. But Egypt’s rules of the game for foreign NGOs are patently unfair. An ideal resolution to this crisis would be a better NGO law in Egypt and more transparent operations from the US government (which perhaps should focus on institional-building, state-to-state developmental aid and let the more politically sensitive aid to others). That would take engaging Egyptian stakeholders, such as new MPs, towards this end: they should have a voice in this just as much as Egypt’s caretaker, military-controlled government.

Sheila Carapico has an excellent, nuanced piece on the whole debacle, highlighting that many Egyptians – not just the government – are cautious about organizations and political activism funded by foreign governments:

During last winter’s eighteen-day intifada, rumors were planted about foreign provocateurs. The international English-language press unwittingly fed these allegations. Their reports that Western democracy promoters nurtured fledgling democrats, sending a handful of young activists to study nonviolent resistance with the Serbian organization OPTOR, were recycled in the Arabic-language media.

Complicating matters, London and Washington decided to fast-track small grants to liberal groups, skirting labyrinthine Egyptian channels for the distribution of foreign aid. The Obama administration earmarked some $65 million for quick direct support to NGOs working on initiatives like training election monitors, educating voters and documenting human-rights violations. Mubarak-era bureaucrats cited sovereignty in defense of their patronage pyramids and clientalistic licensing procedures. Over the summer, the minister of international cooperation asked military prosecutors to investigate the “unauthorized” transfer of nearly $48 million to fourteen American organizations (including those besieged in December) and $6 million to twelve Egyptian groups not accredited by the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

The Arab Spring of 2011 inflamed sentiments on this polarizing issue. Even on the front lines, many were of two minds. Strangulating laws of association, expression and assembly were among the grievances against the old regime. The armed invasion of premises where the only weapons used were words defied international and even municipal legal norms. For ministerial and military establishments reliant on foreign largess to cry foul over small political projects seemed hypocritical to many and foolhardy to others. Liberal Egyptians working for international organizations saw how the crackdown on Western organizations diverted attention away from another outside influence: the funds flowing from Gulf monarchies to conservatives and counterrevolutionaries in the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi movements—and perhaps the military as well.

And yet many sophisticated Egyptians reason that Western political projects are ultimately more attuned to NATO security interests than Western ideals. Lots of patriots bridled at foreign meddling, including both foreign support of Mubarak after the fraudulent elections of late 2010 or, as some now insisted, in fomenting mass rebellion. Revolutionaries were insulted by the insinuation that in order to depose Mubarak they should learn from Serbs, who joined a NATO-backed campaign to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic.

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Egypt’s raids on NGOs

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

Note: this post was written yesterday. I understand the US NGOs have had their property returned after the intervention of the US government.

I’m away from Cairo at the moment, so apart from a few panicked SMSs from friends and the coverage on Twitter I have not really followed yesterday’s raids on six NGOs by the Egyptian police. Links for reported stories on what happened are at the bottom of the post. I want here only to give my own interpretation of what’s happening.

Such a course of action was a possibility, of course, since last September or so when investigations into NGOs that receive foreign funding were initiated by SCAF, Minister of State for International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga and the ministry of justice. The fight over NGOs, and the fact that the Egyptian government seemed to be mostly drawing attention to Western-funded NGOs rather than Gulf-funded Islamic charities, is a manufactured crisis created to use as a card against Western, and more specifically US, pressure on the Egyptian government.

After the January uprising, US discourse on Egypt began to stress again the importance of human rights, civil society and democracy but also voice the expectation of a successful transition to democracy. The SCAF, though, has fought to restore an adapted version of the Mubarak system and has proved just as successful as using the idea of foreign influence, with activists themselves asking questions about the revelation like August by incoming US Ambassador to Egypt that some $40-60m of USAID funding has been earmarked for democracy promotion — out of maybe around $300m of civilian aid and $1.3bn in military aid in 2011, and excluding any supplementary budget aid to help Egypt through its current economic crunch.

Many may wonder that the raids on the these prominent US NGOs — IRI, NDI, Freedom House — that work closely with the US government are a risky move for SCAF, which itself depends on a US handout. I would argue that SCAF has no intention of closing down these US-linked NGOs, but rather use the investigation as a card with the Obama administration, which has been obligated by Congress to give assurances of progress in Egypt for Egypt military funding to be allowed. Just before the State Dept. has to give this assurance, these NGOs problems will be more or less resolved.

In the meantime, by accessing their computers and files they will have developed better knowledge of these NGOs’ partners, and how much each get in funding, to reserve for another day. The investigation and the NGOs unlicensed status justifies such an information raid, and what is gathered from the raids can be used at some other juncture.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian NGOs (which received foreign funding) that have been raided may suffer a different fate. I would not be surprised at all if this is then used to either shut down altogether groups like the Egyptian Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, which is trying to investigate the economics of the military, or put pressure on others by finding accounting errors or put together corruption cases. In other words, they will relax on the foreign NGOs (which usually cannot do the most risky type of advocacy and research) and use the raids to stop or harm the NGOs they don’t like that do more risky work. The Observatory’s work on the military comes to mind, while another group, the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, may also be leaned on as the questions it tackles will be quite central in 2012: judicial institutions, the constitution, etc.

Since the US is primarily concerned here, it should not fall into the trap of what is essentially a shakedown. Don’t try and resolve through backchannels to restore the status quo. Move to punish this by establishing linkage between the civilian aid and military aid: for instance, cancel a scheduled Egyptian officer training visit to the US, or delay delivery or purchasing of US military items. Investigate, as the US did in the 1980s, the shipment companies that deliver these items (in the 1980s they were owned by top military brass, it was a kickback mechanism for the army’s black box, Hussein Salem and Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala were involved).

In other words, part of the raid on NGOs is about the US-Egypt relationship at a time when SCAF wants to establish an adapted authoritarian status-quo and the US is most worried, wrongly, about Camp David (wrongly because the US attitude should be, “do what you want on Camp David, but we will do nothing to restrain how the Israelis react” — the generals are not crazy.) If it is serious about all the fine words it said after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the US needs to stand strong here and show it won’t be toyed with. In doing so, it might be doing a favor to Egypt’s civil society. 


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Egypt Raids 17 Human Rights NGOs: Did They Just Shoot Santa Claus?

December 29th, 2011 Comments off

The Egyptian military receives $1.3 billion annually from the US taxpayer. Today the Egyptian government raided 17 human rights organizations and NGOs, reportedly to investigate “foreign funding.” Employees are being detained in their offices, computers confiscated, etc. Among the 17 are the US-based National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute (both of which receive State Department funding), Freedom House, and others.

I am, however, doubtful that all these NGOs put together receive as much “foreign funding” as the Egyptian Armed Forces.

This is a sad day for human rights and civil society in Egypt. It also may be the day that SCAF shot Santa Claus.

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Authoritarian unto the nations

November 15th, 2011 Comments off
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved two bills that would limit foreign funding for Israeli human rights organizations.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already announced support for one of the bills, sponsored by two members of his Likud party – MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis – which would cap foreign governments’ contributions to “political” non-governmental organizations at NIS 20,000.”

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UNESCO suspends new programs after U.S. funding cut (Reuters)

November 11th, 2011 Comments off

Delegates take part in the vote at the UNESCO headquarters where the United Nations' cultural agency decided to give the Palestinians full membership of the body, a vote that will boost their bid for recognition as a state at the United Nations, during the 36th session of UNESCO's General Conference in Paris October 31, 2011. REUTERS/Benoit TessierReuters – The United Nations’ cultural agency has temporarily suspended new programs in response to the United States’ decision to cut off funding after UNESCO granted the Palestinians membership, the agency said on Thursday.

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