One of the greatest dangers to democracy in Egypt is the prevalence of conspiracy theories warning that secret plots are under way against the country. The purpose is to persuade citizens that what they see before them—repression by the army, for example—is not real, while behind the scenes invisible evil plots are under way.
The best recent example of this phenomenon comes from the author of NGO crisis, in which the government of Egypt has raided and shut down several NGOs promoting democracy and human rights there and has criminal investigations of several Americans (some of whom are hiding out in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo) under way. Fayza Aboul Naga, Minister of “International Cooperation” (she wins the prize for “most misleading title” for that one) recently said this–and it helps explain the NGO crisis:
the January 25 revolution came as a surprise to the United States, and it slipped from its control when it transformed into a people’s revolution. That was when the United States decided to use all its resources and instruments to contain the situation and push it in a direction that promotes American and also Israeli interests
She made that statement in October, and it exposes perfectly the mind set that views the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House as dangerous. The Americans under the nefarious Obama, she either believes or wishes Egyptians to believe, are behind Egypt’s troubles, and any effort to promote democracy is actually a ploy secretly designed to hijack the revolution so as to promote Israel’s interests. And this comes not from some crackpot or fringe group but the minister in charge of dealing with the United States about our aid program.
In fact, she is the author as well of a lengthy effort, going back at least five years now, to end control of our aid program by Congress and hand it instead to the Egyptian government by putting it all into an “endowment.” As the Congressional Research Service described things, “some analysts believe that the proposed endowment…would serve as a substitute for for the annual appropriations process and shield Egypt from potential conditions mandated by Congress.” Indeed. Once the United States put a large sum–$200 to $500 million was proposed—into the “endowment,” the ability of Congress to demand oversight and parcel out appropriations would be eliminated. Remarkably, Ms. Aboul Naga was pushing this as a member of the Mubarak regime that she now reviles in her enthusiasm for the “people’s revolution.”
Congress is now considering suspending the economic aid program in whole or in part thanks to the NGO crisis. How can there be much confidence in the way our assistance will be spent when Egypt’s leading aid official views us not as a partner, not as donor, but as a conspirator against Egypt?