Blowback in Egypt
US “democracy”-promoting efforts on trial
The trial of 43 employees of Western-backed “pro-democracy” groups in Egypt has been postponed until July, when government prosecution witnesses are scheduled to testify. The case attracted international attention when the authorities accused US- and European-backed groups of trying to overthrow the government. As Egyptian police raided the offices of several NGOs, and detained Sam La Hood – son of US labor secretary Ray La Hood – Egypt’s minister for international cooperation Fayza Abulnaga issued a dossier on their activities, which amounted, she said, to promoting “American and Israeli interests” and “preventing the emergence of Egypt as a democratic state.” The state-controlled Al-Ahram newspaper headlined the story: “American Funding Aims to Spread Anarchy in Egypt.”
While the move was popular in Egypt, where suspicions of US – and Israeli – covert activity runs high, in the US the Washington glitterati were in outrage mode: Hillary Clinton threatened to cut off the $1.5 billion in aid scheduled to be delivered to Cairo, and the pundits went wild with scorn: Thomas Friedman denounced the trial as a “witch hunt,” while Sen. John “Boots-on-the-ground” McCain gave vent to his “growing alarm and outrage.” The “civil society” crowd went bananas, naturally, since this is a bread-and-butter issue for them, being entirely dependent on Western governments and the generosity of George Soros. If taking government money is cause for suspicion and legal problems in countries like Egypt, their whole racket is over.
What their racket consists of is carrying out the foreign policy agendas of the US and its European allies under the guise of “promoting democracy.” It is, in short, a program of organized subversion, similar to that carried out by the old Soviet Union in the days of the Comintern. Back then, the Soviets were upfront about their commitment to “proletarian internationalism,” actively promoting “revolutionary” movements funded and directed from Moscow. Our own internationalism, albeit far from proletarian, is similar in its intent and hypocritical cant. An entire wing of the national security bureaucracy is centered around the mythology of America as the great promoter of “democracy” and “transparency,” with both political parties operating their own separate arms of an international apparatus which is nothing less – or more – than an instrument of US foreign policy.
Even the Egyptian employees of these “democracy promotion” projects were well aware of what sugar daddy Uncle Sam is up to: it turns out that they resigned en masse a few months before the raids. AP reports:
“They complained that the US group, described as nonpartisan, had excluded the country’s most popular Islamist political organization from its programs, collected sensitive religious information about Egyptians when conducting polls to send to Washington, and ordered employees to erase all computer files and turn over all records for shipment abroad months before the raids.
“’Our resignation is a result of many different practices we have been witnessing that seem suspicious and unprofessional,’ the Egyptian employees wrote in their 17 October resignation letter.”
Among these practices was failing to report where the money was going, a legal requirement in Egypt (and the US, I might add). Dawlat Soulam, a former employee of the International Republican Institute (IRI), told AP:
“Are we doing something we want to hide from the Egyptians? Are you playing a political agenda and you don’t want to show that you want to take sides?”
A pledge to post the information publicly went unfulfilled, in spite of “weekly meetings” at which the subject was discussed. The employees’ main complaint was that, contrary to their public pronouncements, US officials were taking sides in Egypt’s election, directly funding secular liberal parties and excluding the others, including the Islamists. I’m sure this was just an oversight, however, since we’re funding the most radical Islamists in Syria at this very moment. In any case, apparently the IRI’s Democratic counterpart, the National Democratic Institute, was making up for this shameless neglect by providing “training” to Muslim Brotherhood activists.
The idea that the US government is some sort of above-the-fray “democracy”-promoter, who therefore is obligated to ladle out millions in aid to all parties – including those that advocate, say, the imposition of Sharia law – is born of an empty-headed illusion shared by more than one native activist who looks to the US as a model for their own country. These people take seriously the propaganda points of US policymakers who insist their “democracy promotion” efforts are all about process rather than the pursuit of US foreign policy objectives – just as yesteryear’s idealistic Comintern agents sincerely believed in the Kremlin’s devotion to “proletarian internationalism.” When they discover otherwise, a whole generation of “the god that failed” ex-ideologues is born.
In reality, and in all cases, nation-states pursue their own interests, which are, first and foremost, the political interests of those who rule. This is true in democracies as well as dictatorships, and it is the basic premise of a realistic view of world politics, the starting point for all serious analyses of political actors, from the local to the international scene.
In the case of the Soviet Union, the Comintern was tasked with propagandizing for Russian national interests abroad, and it used the indigenous Communist parties and fellow-travelers to promote a geopolitical strategy that was primarily defensive. Saddled with enormous economic problems at home, and an increasingly restive subject population, Kremlin leaders avoided the Trotskyite strategy of pursuing “world revolution” in favor of building “socialism in one country” – i.e. working furiously to manage the inefficiencies of a socialist system and avoid complete collapse. Their efforts, as we know, ended in failure, as the economic and political disaster that had been awaiting them since 1917 finally worked out its inexorable logic and the Berlin Wall was toppled.
In the case of the United States, we have a rising hegemon instead of a fragile and ultimately untenable would-be imperialism, one with no military equivalent on the world stage – and clearly on the offensive. When the cold war ended, a dizzying triumphalism displaced any realistic sense of what America’s role in the world ought to be: instead of turning to solve its own mounting internal problems, the US government boosted its efforts to meddle in the internal affairs of other nations. The “democracy promotion” racket got a big shot in the arm with the infusion of billions in taxpayer dollars.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is an official US government agency that melds the “private” and the public: i.e. private interests get public money. Both political parties share in the loot, as do labor and big business, with the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce getting in on the gravy train. In addition, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) plays a key role in dispensing funds to favored groups abroad, acting in tandem with too many other obscure federal agencies to even list. Naturally, the well-connected “civil society” crowd is first in line for their fair share of government cheese: their task is to “train” aspiring young leaders who, once they attain power, can be relied on to do the bidding of their former patrons.
NED was originally conceived as a comfortably obscure niche for the neoconservatives in the Reagan administration, a place where they could indulge their cold war fantasies without exercising too much real influence and without attracting much notice. As is the case with all government programs, however, this one soon metastasized into an ever-growing bureaucratic empire, one which owed its political survival to serving the interests of all the major Washington players: both parties, big labor, and big business. With that kind of coalition behind it, NED’s budget and international reach grew by leaps and bounds.
In the post cold war world, NED, USAID, and those “non-governmental organizations” most willing to turn themselves into instruments of the State have spawned an international industry that is the civilian wing of Washington’s regime-change machine. This world-spanning apparatus is an essential element in our government’s foreign policy game plan: it exists to create an aura of legitimacy around our whatever military campaign is in progress. The goal is to continually push back the frontiers of the Empire, and the current focus is on the volatile Middle East.
Egypt is just one theater in a wider war. The long arm of Washington is evident in Syria, too, where our “democracy promotion” efforts have served as a cover for financing armed rebels, including groups openly claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda. Unlike in Egypt, where the US effort to destabilize the country is necessarily covert, the campaign for regime change in Syria is military in nature – and that’s where the Islamists, including Al Qaeda, come in handy. If Egyptians look at Syria and see the future, who can blame them for fearing and resenting Washington’s interference in their elections?
The National Endowment for Democracy is endowing America’s fat cats – big labor, big business, the party bosses – with billions in free money at a time when ordinary people are being thrown off food stamps and a government-created financial bubble is laying waste to the economy. It ought to be abolished forthwith.
The agency’s critics argue that it undermines rather than advances the democratic ideals we’re supposed to be promoting in the countries where it operates, but this misses the real point. The purpose of NED and other such efforts is not so much to legitimize these canned “revolutions” in the eyes of the natives, but to impress upon Americans and other Westerners the nobility of our favored political actors – and the unmitigated evil of anyone who fails to toe Washington’s line. When Americans read news reports quoting some NGO official’s opinion as received wisdom, they are duly impressed, especially when the group has the words “democracy” and/or “human rights” in its name.
The trial of the NGO officials in Cairo has been postponed, perhaps in order to give the Obama administration a final opportunity to make a deal with the Egyptians. Meanwhile, Washington is whining that the trial is “politically motivated” – because nothing they do is ever motivated by political gain.
If a public trial ever takes place – which I doubt – it promises to be fascinating: testimony from the group of disillusioned ex-employees will give us valuable insights into the inner workings of America’s worldwide regime change project. While defenders of the NGO workers claim the trial is all part of a “crackdown” by the Egyptian military authorities, and the remnants of the Mubarak regime, I have my suspicions that it was the ex-employees who went to the authorities and reported “suspicious” (and illegal) activities on the part of their bosses.
Now that’s what I call “blowback” with a vengeance!
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The bigwigs at NED and allied government institutions don’t have to conduct intrusive fundraising campaigns, hectoring their readers and supporters for cash: that’s because they have the US Treasury at their disposal. We here at Antiwar.com, however, are the kind of non-governmental organization that would never take a dime from the taxpayers – that’s called stealing. Not that they would offer us a dime in any event….
Look, I hate to keep on about this, but we’re still around $8,000 short of our fundraising goal, as of this writing. Unlike the NED, we haven’t been handed a blank check – we have to raise the money we need to continue our work from the voluntary donations of our readers. That’s why I’ve ended every column for the last three weeks with a plea for donations – because if we don’t make our fundraising goal, we can’t do our job of debunking the government propaganda that keeps coming at us from every direction.
There’s just one way to shut me up about this: help put us over the top by making your tax-deductible contribution to Antiwar.com today.
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