The ‘Cairo 19’ Got What They Deserve

Walking along a Moscow street, in 2006, a man picks up a rock and carries it away: nothing about that is suspicious in itself, now is it? Except that the rock was fake, a hollowed out simulation that contained electronic equipment: it was the equivalent of a “drop box” in which Russian agents of British intelligence were able to download information from a hand-held device – likely a mobile phone — and provide it to their British handlers operating out of Her Majesty’s Embassy. One of the individuals secretly filmed by the Russian security bureau retrieving messages was the British official responsible for making disbursements to Russian “human rights” organizations. When the Russians examined the contents of the fake rock, they found it contained information on illegal payments made to Russian individuals working for “human rights” NGOs. Although the Brits denied it at the time, Jonathan Powell, a former chief of staff to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, admitted to the scheme in a recent four-part BBC series on Putin’s Russia.

The admission came at an inconvenient time: during Russia’s tumultuous presidential election, in which the Russian opposition was accusing Vladimir Putin of stealing the vote, and Putin, in turn, was characterizing the opposition as paid tools of Washington. The Americans did nothing to disabuse Russians of this charge: indeed, when the new US Ambassador to the Kremlin, Michael McFaul, arrived in Moscow, he met with leaders of the Russian opposition on his second day in town. As Eric Kraus, a Moscow-based fund manager, put it:

“One should first ask what the reaction would have been in the United States if the British ambassador to Washington began his mandate by throwing an open house for ‘Occupy Wall Street’ – it would have been considered a hostile act. Why is Russia any different? Russia is a sovereign state, not a protectorate, and the job of any ambassador is to facilitate state-to-state relations, not to become a player in domestic politics.”

But of course the US is indeed involved in the domestic politics of practically every nation on earth, and it even has an official agency in charge of such meddling. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a “public-private” institution that receives direct grants of US tax dollars, which it then funnels abroad via its four main constituent parts: the National Democratic Institute (NDI), affiliated with the Democratic party, the International Republican Institute (IRI), a division of the GOP, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), sponsored and partially funded by the AFL-CIO, and the Center for International Private Enterprise, affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce. Founded in 1984, NED played a key role in undermining the Nicaraguan government at a time when the US government was illegally funding the so-called “contras,” who were carrying out a terrorist campaign against the authorities in Managua.

In 1985, it was revealed the NED had been financing two groups in France, of all places: the National Inter-University Union (UNI), and Force Ouvriere (FO), a labor organization. UNI was an offshoot of the Service for Civic Action, an extremist right-wing terrorist group that had killed several people in the south of France and engaged in drug smuggling. UNI scored $575,000 from NED. FO was in a pitched battle with left-wing unions for supremacy in the French labor movement, and the US funding via NED – to the tune of $830,000 – was seen as an attempt to undermine Francois Mitterand’s socialist government.

In 1989, when Nicaragua’s Sandinista government was being challenged by the opposition — led by newspaper publisher Violeta Chamorro, and her United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO) — Congress passed a $9 million appropriation for the NED to get involved in the Nicaraguan election. It passed with one restriction, however: none of the money was to be used to help one particular party. In reality, however, almost all the funding went to the UNO. In tandem with the flood of millions of dollars into the opposition, the US unleashed the contras, inflicting unprecedented violence on civilians and wrecking the economy.

The Endowment has been a vital instrument in the deployment of “soft power” to further US interests, acting as a conduit for funding the “color revolutions” that were sparked by US-funded activists in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. It is, in short, a weapon in the US arsenal designed to effect “regime change” in countries deemed insufficiently enthusiastic about becoming – or staying – a US protectorate.

Although the “Arab Spring” looks to have taken the US by surprise, Washington moved quickly – via the NED and USAID – to coopt the movement. It appears, though, that the Egyptian government – which has just elected a majority Muslim Brotherhood parliament – is having none of it: Cairo recently put NED activists, including the son of the US Secretary of Transportation, on a “no fly” list, and announced it will prosecute a number of individuals, including 19 Americans, for engaging in illegal activities. Washington is outraged, and its amen corner is already mobilizing in support of the “Cairo 19.”

Egypt, like the US, has strict controls on foreign interference in its internal politics: foreign-funded organizations must register with the government, and give a complete accounting of their activities. The US has even stricter controls: foreign contributions to electoral activities on American soil are forbidden by US law, and, in addition, groups receiving funding from foreign governments must register as foreign agents. The penalty for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine – roughly equivalent (except for the fine) to the penalty faced by the “Cairo 19.”

Neither IRI nor NDI ever registered with the authorities in Egypt: the claim is that they didn’t do so because “the laws required licenses that were almost never granted” and “exerted government control over foreign contributions.” Of course, the New York Times reporter who wrote this neglected to inform his readers that the US absolutely bans any foreign intervention in the electoral process on its own soil. That’s the Americans’ signature stance in the world: one standard for me, and another for thee….

It’s hard to believe anyone with the least bit of objectivity would blame the Egyptians for reacting to interference in their politics the way they have, but Harper’s Scott Horton has stepped into the breach with a polemic that is as unconvincing as it is arrogant.

Horton blames the Muslim Brotherhood for “coddling the military,” and seeking to cement its power by refusing to investigate corruption in the barracks. He writes that the Brotherhood’s pact with the military brought on the prosecution:

“Under attack are the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute — two venerable, congressionally funded organizations linked to America’s two political parties, each with a solid record of accomplishment in the global struggle for democracy.”

From funding the French extreme right to overthrowing the Sandinistas by means of terrorism – that’s a “solid record of accomplishment,” alright, except it has nothing to do with “the global struggle for democracy” and everything to do with advancing Washington’s global ambitions. For Horton, naturally, there is no difference between these two goals – but the inhabitants of the countries whose politics we are meddling in may see it differently.

While speculating the Egyptians could actually “believe that organizations dedicated to promoting democracy are actually working to overthrow the Egyptian state in the interests of some foreign power,” he dismisses this out of hand because “placing the blame for domestic problems on the unseen hand of a foreign foe is an ancient and sometimes effective strategy for a government in extremis.”

Given the NED’s long record of manipulating the internal politics of nations we’ve targeted for “regime change,” is it really all that unreasonable for the Egyptians to suspect something is amiss? Oh, but no, according to Horton:

“Whether they occur in Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Hungary, or Israel, attacks on NGOs, especially those focused on democracy advocacy and human rights, are the hallmark of illiberalism. In Egypt, they demonstrate how the revolution has run off course. And they show the country’s deep-seated suspicion of the United States. The Obama Administration is right to treat these developments with alarm. So should the Egyptians still protesting at Tahrir Square.”

If it’s “illiberal” to resent and oppose foreign interference in domestic politics, then one looks forward to Horton’s call for the abolition of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and similar legislation.

Apart from that, however, a far more important point is Horton’s definition of illiberalism as a refusal to allow such interference: implicit here is the idea that the US government is the agency of a “liberal” ideology which it is duty bound to export abroad. Washington, in this view, is the embodiment of “liberalism,” just as Moscow embodied Leninism in the cold war era. To oppose the activities of the NED and its international affiliates is “illiberal” in the same sense opposing Communist subversion in, say, the Americas, was considered “reactionary” by the Kremlin and its American apologists. The NED is the American version of the old Third International: the obedient instrument of US foreign policy. To question its right to intervene anywhere is to align oneself with the forces of darkness.

Horton’s full-throated defense of the “Cairo 19,” whom he portrays as the defenders of “democracy” and secularism in Egypt, drops the context in which the NED and the US government are operating in the region. He forgets or doesn’t care to remember an awful lot.

In response to the 9/11 attacks, the US embarked on a military and political campaign to “transform” the “swamp” of the Muslim world, starting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and ending in Iran. On the occasion of the NED’s twentieth anniversary, President George W. Bush proclaimed the US was launching a “global democratic revolution” – and there was no doubt its main target was the Middle East. Gen. Wesley Clark related in an interview with Amy Goodman how, ten days after 9/11, a top General revealed to him how the decision to invade Iraq was made bereft of any link to al-Qaeda. Coming back to his informant a few weeks later, Clark said:

“’Are we still going to war with Iraq?’ And the General said ‘Oh, its worse than that.’ He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper. He said, ‘I just got this … from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense’s office today. This is a memo that describes how we are going to take out 7 countries in 5 years. Starting with Iraq, then Syria and Lebanon. Then Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Then finishing off Iran.’”

It’s taken them more than five years, but clearly they’ve made considerable progress so far: Iraq is in the bag, so is Libya, and Sudan has been successfully split in two. As for Somalia, it’s the latest “front” in our endless “war on terrorism,” and we’re gearing up for the Big One: Iran. Once Tehran falls, can Lebanon be far behind?

Egypt figures prominently in all this: it is “the prize,” as neocon theoretician and former LaRouchie Laurent Murawiec put it in an infamous presentation to the Defense Policy Board, in which he and his fellow neocons pushed not only the invasion of Iraq but also a US takeover of the Saudi oil fields and – eventually — “regime change” in Egypt. As Murawiec put it in his remarks to the assembled policymakers, including Richard Perle, Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt – “the fulcrum of the Arab world” — had become “a Malthusian basket case” due to the dictator’s mismanagement:

“The result is an explosive mix. Traditional Moslems and modernist Arabs have been marginalized, hounded out of the public scene, while the virulent press endlessly incites hatred and violence against Israel and the U.S. Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis, the remainder were Egyptians.

“… Why not let Mubarak crack down on the Islamists once we have terminated their power elsewhere, and benightedly allow him to stay in power without policies being changed—isn’t he our friend after all? That would be a sure recipe for disaster. The pivot of the Arab world is the most important one to transform in depth. Iraq may be described as the tactical pivot, the point of entry; Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot; but Egypt, with its mass, its history, its prestige and its potential, is where the future of the Arab world will be decided. Egypt, then, in the new Middle Eastern environment created by our war, can start being reshaped.

“From our standpoint, though, Egypt has to come up at a later stage of the strategic course presented here: it cannot and should not be tackled prior to the fall of Saddam, the cracking of Syria and Hezbollah, and the abasement of the Saudis. It will become possible to tackle the essential issue—that of a useless, dysfunctional tyranny—once the above have been successfully carried out.”

Given the course of our rampage across much of the Middle East to date, is it any wonder Egyptians are suspicious that their turn has come? To add insult to injury, we’re now threatening to withhold the substantial amount we send over there in “foreign aid,” including military assistance. The Egyptians have stuck to their guns, however, and insist they will go through with the prosecution, perhaps because, as this New York Times piece on the controversy opined: “But for Washington, revoking the aid would risk severing the tie that for three decades has bound the United States, Egypt and Israel in an uneasy alliance that is the cornerstone of the American-backed regional order.”

That “cornerstone” is now cracked beyond repair, and the US is frantically trying to cement it together: that the NED’s Egyptian operation is being wielded in pursuit of that goal is undeniable. Whether these same US-funded “activists” would be utilized to effect regime-change is a question the Egyptians have a right to ask.

Horton makes his appeal to the protesters of Tahrir Square, and yet those same protesters, as much as many are for democracy, secularism, and modernity, are also fiercely nationalistic – and no friends of our “cornerstone” foreign policy in the region.

Again and again, US policymakers and commentators have underestimated – and misunderstood – the powerful wave of protest that has toppled regimes from Tunisia to Yemen. It isn’t an ideological drive for “democracy,” as such, or one motivated by the economic downturn, although these factors are surely present: what the “Arab Spring” represents is an upsurge of radical nationalism, similar to the pan-Arabism unleashed by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the Egyptian revolution of 1952. In each and every instance, the target of the crowds in the streets has been a regime sporting the West’s imprimatur. Even Gadhafi had finally made his peace with those he once denounced as “imperialists,” and gained a degree of legitimacy in Western circles.

The Arab world has essentially been under occupation by the West since the fall of the Ottomans in the aftermath of World War I. The “anti-colonial” revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s ended in the consolidation of sclerotic regimes that oppressed their own people and – as the cold war petered out – wound up in the Western orbit. Indeed, as Mubarak and Gadhafi prepared their sons to succeed them, these regimes became indistinguishable from the monarchies traditionally backed by Washington and London.

US attempts to hijack and manipulate this nationalist tidal wave, beside being futile, are likely to result in a serious case of “blowback” – unintended and highly unfortunate consequences that will reduce our influence and in the region and provoke an anti-American backlash. We are, in short, playing with fire – and no one should be surprised that, in Egypt and elsewhere, we are being burned.

By the way, before we elevate Sam Lahood, son of US Labor Secretary and former GOP congressman Ray Lahood, to the status of a martyr for “democracy” and “liberalism,” let’s note that his former gig was serving as a censor for the US Occupation Authority in Iraq. Putting him and his fellow “democracy-promoters” on trial is the Egyptians’ way of ensuring he never takes up similar duties in Egypt.


Bad news: it looks like Judge Andrew Napolitano’s “Freedom Watch” – one of the most popular programs on Fox Business News – has been axed by Roger Ailes and his neocon friends. Fox Business has some other libertarian and quasi-libertarian commentators, but — unlike the Judge — they rarely bring up foreign policy from a non-interventionist perspective. Napolitano’s radical libertarianism, which owes more to Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises than to the US Chamber of Commerce, was apparently too much for Ailes to put up with, and the final straw was no doubt the Judge’s unbridled enthusiasm for Ron Paul.

There is reportedly an effort among some Republican members of Congress to restore the program, and I have no doubt libertarians will be writing and calling Fox to protest the decision. You can call, email, or fax:

Irena Briganti, Senior Vice President
Media Relations
Phone: 212-301-3608
Fax: 212-819-0816

However, I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you. The Judge violated the first commandment of Fox News commentators, which is to always and in every instance support the War Party to the hilt. The Judge not only refused, he denounced the warmongers at every turn. I’m not surprised he’s out, but that doesn’t detract at all from my disappointment and anger.

As much as I like Neil Cavuto and John Stossel, I’ll never watch Fox Business News again – and neither should you.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].