Follow the money
By Salama A Salama
At last, we have some hard evidence regarding the case of foreign funding to civil society organisations. The indictment, just released by the prosecution office, sums up the outcome of investigation with 43 defendants, Egyptian and foreign. According to the indictment, the defendants, including 19 Americans, all work for civil society organisations that have turned their attention to political activities. The funding of Egyptian parties and political groups ahead of the parliamentary elections has doubled in April and May, and there is a lingering suspicion that the funding may have been aimed to influence the political course of Egyptian parties.
No one disputes the right of Egyptian civil society groups to obtain assistance, either through direct grants or through the training of their members in various civic duties such as monitoring elections and encouraging voters to go to polling stations. But this assistance must be conducted with the consent of the state and according to the regulations set by competent authorities. It must also conform to the stated objectives of the funding.
To argue that the state itself is receiving economic or military aid from America is beside the point, for such aid is governed by clear agreements and is in keeping with negotiated contracts stating the terms of the funding and the manner of its spending. Much of the aid is also related to international agreements such the Camp David Accords or other agreements signed with the EU and other international bodies. These agreements are usually over the table, which is not the case with civil society organisations, as investigators found out.
We all know that members of the now disbanded National Democratic Party received training through US institutions. But after the revolution, US institutions began supporting the new parties, including those with a religious background.
Nearly 63 groups, including the Freedom and Justice Party and Nour Party benefited from this aid, allowing their members to enrol in unlicensed political training programmes and workshops.
According to a secret document leaked by WikiLeaks, the funding to Egyptian groups came either from the budget of US assistance or through front organisations, so as to hide the sources of finance allocated to non- registered politicians.
The funding was also camouflaged because the Egyptian authorities had expressed dismay over the funding by Washington-based organisations of Egyptian groups, which the authorities regard as meddling in the country's internal affairs.
According to WikiLeaks, one of the largest Egyptian human rights organisations received funding from a US- funded Morocco-based organisation, so as to hold a conference on free press in Cairo.
Former US Ambassador Margaret Scobey admitted in a cable that she has exceeded the absorption capacity of Egyptian organisations.
According to WikiLeaks, several Egyptian organisations received millions of dollars through the International Democratic Institute, including the Ibn Khaldoun Centre, the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, the Andalus Centre for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, and the Liberal Cairo Forum.
Washington still denies the charges detailed in the prosecution's indictment. A US State Department spokeswoman said that the whole thing was a "misunderstanding". The assistance, she said, is related to the Camp David Accords and is in the interests of both Egypt and America.
This crisis broke out in a time of political and economic unease in Egypt. And there is no doubt that Cairo and Washington are both aware of the gravity of the situation.
Though helpful to the economy, assistance invariably has a political side. This is something that the Egyptians must bear in mind while they speak to World Bank officials about a new loan.
The above article was first published in Issue 1085 (16-22 February 2011).