Why Is Egypt’s Military Government Targeting American Nonprofits?

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February 14, 2012; Source: Washington Post | Is the Mubarak regime dead and gone in Egypt? Not quite, and in fact, some aspects of Egyptian totalitarianism may be reviving and expanding. The military government that replaced Hosni Mubarak after Egypt’s stirring “Arab Spring” revolt has taken a tough stance—one that looks to most of the world like a desperate strategy to hold onto power or else lose control of the privileges it has accumulated over the decades. The most recent dimensions of the military’s increasing intransigence have been the December raids on nonprofits that receive foreign funding and last month’s referral of 43 of the employees of these groups for criminal prosecution. The employees include 16 Americans, one of which is Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Egyptian Minister for International Cooperation Faiza Aboul Naga, a Mubarak regime holdover, has charged that Americans have used funding for these nonprofits to “create and sustain a state of chaos.” She has alleged that these groups were part of a “clear and determined wish to abort any chance for Egypt to rise as a modern and democratic state with a strong economy since that will pose the biggest threat to American and Israeli interests.” The U.S. government is fulminating and threatening to cut off aid, which has been much of the lifeblood of the country (accounting for as much as one-fourth of Egypt’s economy) and a huge source of income to the aid-skimming military authorities.

The Egyptian military isn’t showing signs of backing down—and indeed, it may not be in a position in which it can back down. Some think that the military launched the raids as a staged crisis. Civilian groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood are showing strength at the polls, the argument goes, and that makes the military potentially a little desperate to find ways of holding onto power. But according to Egyptian human rights activist Negad Borai, the issue has evolved “beyond the control of the generals.”

Characterizing American-funded nonprofits as opposing the Egyptian military—the nation’s most admired institution since its independence in the 1950s—may be a way of boosting the generals’ power against possible democratizing interests aiming to put the military (and its budget) under civilian review and under a new regime. Unfortunately, Americans working for nonprofits in Egypt may be caught in the crossfire between the military and its growing opposition. –Rick Cohen