Jun 6, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

To be continued

Hollywood must definitely make a movie out of this. The trial of the Egyptians, Americans and other foreign democracy-promoters charged with (basically) stirring the revolution in Egypt restarted this week and got postponed again, now to next month. Six of the accused Americans left the country months ago, easing the tension and the media attention to the story. But the trial continues, and so does the complicated relationship between US and Egyptian diplomats over democracy related programs in Cairo and elsewhere.

Obviously, the accused deny the charges, but it is hard to convince Egyptian authorities that the programs led by NDI, IRI and Freedom House had no political bias or agenda. Promoting democracy in what was then an authocracy is a political matter. Most programs worked with all parties, but according to recent news, some did make distinctions and even refused to work with the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m not sure that, in what pertains to this case, it is a good thing that the MB now happens to be in charge.

How unbiased can this programs be? Is it a matter of yes or no or is there a scale? And, deep down, is complete neutrality desirable when there is a clear objective of more openness?

The US now asks Egypt “to stop trying these individuals and instead resolve any outstanding issues that they may have on this matter in a government-to-government basis,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. According to him, the NGOs provided an “important component to a successful democratic transition for Egypt.”

I definitely agree that unresolved matters should be dealt with in a government-to-government basis. Still, development and democracy programs have here a great opportunity to analyze their work under the eyes of the countries that operate in.




1 Comment

  • It’s much easier to say programs are neutral than to operate this way. Politics determines the distribution of power within a society. The programs these organizations were running actively sought to rebalance political power. While they may not have sought to benefit any particular party or organization, saying their objectives were neutral isn’t a credible statement. More broadly, for the US Government to say it supports democracy in Egypt and fund organizations promoting political change there, but then deny this is what the organizations were doing gives the US Government a bit of a credibility problem, to say the least.

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