February 8, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 795

Crisis between Egypt, U.S. Deepens over American Funding to Civil Society Organizations

February 8, 2012 | By L. Lavi and N. Shamni*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 795


The crisis between Egypt and the U.S. recently deepened after the Egyptian regime stepped up its campaign against civil society organizations in the country.[1] As part of an investigation into claims that some of these organizations are operating without a permit and receiving foreign, chiefly U.S., aid, investigators for Egypt's Attorney General raided the offices of 17 organizations on December 29, 2011, including the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP), the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, the International Republican Institute (IRI), Freedom House (FH), and the Cairo and Asyut offices of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI).[2]

Notwithstanding reports that Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) head General Muhammad Hussein Tantawi had committed to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to stop persecuting Egypt's civil society organizations and to allow them to resume their activities,[3] as of this writing this has not occurred. Moreover, on January 26, 2012, the Egyptian authorities barred six American activists from Cairo-based civil society organizations from leaving the country, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.[4] The six later took refuge in the U.S. embassy.[5] At the same time, Egypt announced it was breaking ties with the U.S. lobbying organization PLM Group, possibly because it failed to defend Egypt's policy on civil society organizations to the American public.[6]

SCAF head General Tantawi with U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta[7]

For its part, the U.S. has threatened to cut its aid to Egypt, in an attempt to pressure this country to change its policy. The Egyptian press claimed that the U.S. and some of its Western allies had even pressured Arab and Western countries to delay delivery of funding they had promised Egypt following the revolution. It was also claimed that the U.S. had made an F-15 deal with Saudi Arabia conditional upon the kingdom's commitment to withhold aid to Egypt at present.[8]

Contact between Egypt and the U.S. increased this past week, though the sides have not attributed this to the foreign funding crisis. For instance, the Egyptian media reported that the visit of the U.S. deputy attorney general to Cairo was intended to discuss the future Egyptian constitution, and that the visit to Washington by a SCAF delegation had been scheduled prior to the crisis and was meant to discuss defense matters.[9] In any case, it seems that these meetings and discussions have so far failed to yield a resolution to the crisis between the two countries. Despite U.S. pressure, on February 5 the Egyptian authorities announced that 43 civil society activists, 19 of them American, including the son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary, would be tried on criminal charges.[10] Two days later, the SCAF delegation that had arrived in Washington cancelled the meetings it had planned with American congressmen.[11]

It can be estimated that the SCAF is escalating the crisis with the U.S. in order to win legitimacy at home, in light of the popular protest against it and the calls in Egypt to immediately wrest rule of the country from its hands – calls which intensified leading up to and following the one-year anniversary of the revolution on January 25, 2012. There are several factors supporting this assessment:

1. The crisis in Egypt-U.S. relations began as early as June 2011, after U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson announced in her Senate confirmation hearing that the U.S. had given close to $40 million to organizations in Egypt toward establishing democracy there. The SCAF at first remained silent over the issue, despite the lively public discussion in Egypt of foreign, and specifically U.S., funding going to civil society organizations. However, about a month before the celebrations marking the one-year anniversary of the revolution, the SCAF began to take a bold and direct role in the matter.

2. Recently, the Egyptian press, both governmental and independent, has taken up a markedly sharper tone vis-à-vis the U.S., even inciting against it, especially during the SCAF delegation's visit to Washington. Many recent articles claimed that the U.S. was interfering in the domestic affairs of Egypt, which it views as its colony; that it was attempting to interfere with the Egyptian judicial system and did not respect Egyptian and international law; that it was conspiring to divide Egypt into a number of smaller states; and that it was at present the greatest enemy of the Egyptian revolution.

An investigative report in the Egyptian daily Al-Wafd claimed that the U.S. Navy medical research unit NAMRU-3, based in Cairo, was conducting experiments on Egyptian children, and may even be responsible for the rising incidence of sterility, mental retardation, and disability among Egyptians. The article claimed that the dangerous chemicals kept in NAMRU's facilities, which it said included biological weapons, could reach enemy hands and be used to annihilate all of Egypt.[12]

In addition, the defense for former Egyptian interior minister Habib Al-'Adli, currently on trial for killing protestors during anti-Mubarak demonstrations, claimed that those responsible for killing the protestors were security personnel belonging to the U.S. embassy and the American University in Cairo.[13]

3. Recently, there has been a clear attempt in the Egyptian press to stress the SCAF's resoluteness against pressure from the U.S. administration, and to praise the SCAF for this courageous policy.

All this helped fan the popular anti-U.S. sentiment in Egypt. Leading up to January 25, 2012, there were calls in Egypt to attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo,[14] and on February 7, 2012, Egyptian security forces captured a young man trying to throw Molotov cocktails at the embassy building. The young man said he wanted to protest U.S. policy toward Egypt and its interference in Egypt's internal affairs.[15]

The following are excerpts from articles in the Egyptian press reflecting the U.S.-Egypt crisis or commenting on it.

Egyptian Columnist: The Crisis with the U.S. Serves the SCAF

Muhammad Al-Manshawi, a columnist for the daily Al-Shurouq and manager of its U.S. office, said that the military council is using its crisis with the U.S. to help itself stay in power: "The Military Council is taking advantage of the tension... with the U.S. in an attempt to gain internal political capital, especially in light of continuing pressure from the Egyptian street and the various political forces, and in light of the demands for the Military Council to cede power, return to its [military] bases, and receive no special status in the constitution. Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Faiza Abu Al-Naga made some fiery statements, including that the Egyptian government will accept no threats or dictates from the U.S., and that ' U.S. aid to Egypt is not a gift, but is based on the common interests of both countries...' These statements indicate that the Military Council caused the escalation with Washington in order to compensate for the unexpected loss of the popular [support] that was granted to it after it took power. [This loss of support] has been clearly proven during the protests over the last few days..."[16]

Civil society organizations protest outside the offices of the Attorney General[17]

Anti-American Articles in Egyptian Press

Columnist in Government Daily: The U.S. – The Greatest Danger to the Revolution

Al-Ahram columnist Mustafa Al-Sami wrote: "Let the American aid cease, if [it means] Egypt becoming an American colony... The honorable youth of the Egyptian revolution should be aware of the American plot against the unity and independence of the homeland. In the name of defending civil society organizations and freedom of opinion and democracy, the U.S. Congress set conditions on military aid to Egypt... The January 25 revolution is not merely fighting the representatives and gangs of the previous regime. [It is also fighting] Washington, which is playing on our land... The Americans are currently the greatest danger for [post-] revolution Egypt."[18]

Encouraging Demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy in Protest of Interference in Egypt's Affairs

Referring to the incident of the six American activists who have taken refuge at the U.S. Embassy after being barred from leaving Egypt, journalist Ahmad Moussa wrote: "It is strange that the U.S. embassy has opened its gates to protect its citizens from standing trial. This is something we haven't seen – a country sheltering people fleeing justice. What does this mean in terms of international law? Is it blackmail and political thuggery, or disrespect of the Egyptian judiciary and state? The superpower that speaks of freedom and justice breaks the laws and tramples them when its citizens are concerned. Where are the sons of the homeland, who haven't organized a single demonstration outside the U.S. embassy to protest its interference in the affairs of [Egyptian] judiciary? [O people,] protect your homeland and unite for Egypt."[19]

American Civil Society Organizations in Egypt Are Spy Agencies

'Imad Al-Din Hussein, managing editor of the daily Al-Shurouq, wrote that American civil society organizations in Egypt are a tool of espionage and intelligence gathering, and aspire to partition Egypt into several states: "Let us focus on the American organizations that are facing accusations, especially the IRI, the NDI, and Freedom House. Leaked information tells us that these American organizations do not work for Allah, or for human rights and spreading democracy, but rather, they are just intelligence [gathering] and espionage apparatuses. Their audacity, lawlessness, and provocation has become so great that maps exist in these [American] centers that divide Egypt into four regions: A Nubian state in the south; a Christian state in Asyut; an Islamic state in the [Nile] Delta; and the Siwa [oasis] and Matrouh [province], which are to be annexed to Libya."[20]

"The Ambassador of Hell [The U.S.] Sets Fire to Al-Tahrir [Square]"[21]

Articles Praising the SCAF's Stance vis-à-vis the U.S.

The SCAF Does Not Operate according to American Whims

Hussein Al-Zinati, a columnist for the daily Al-Ahram, praised the Military Council's decision to detain the American civil society organization activists in Egypt: "What is happening between Egypt and the U.S. is a dramatic change, which appears to the Americans like an escalation from the Egyptian side. But who is really behind this escalation?... After the revolution, the U.S. gave millions to people and institutions [in Egypt] with no accountability. The Military Council saw that [the U.S.] was using those millions to destabilize the country. Even if this [claim] is harsh or exaggerated, reality proves that America does not throw millions away for no reason...

"American officials clearly interfered in internal Egyptian affairs – to the extent of harshly criticizing the Military Council and demanding that it cede power – as though they weren't talking about a country with the status of Egypt, but about a colony that belongs to them... [But] it seems that the Military Council does not operate according to American whims, since, thus far, it has not shown the flexibility that the U.S. would have liked... barring [several] Americans from leaving Egypt or denying entry to several [others], because it understands that it is not in the best interests of Egypt right now..."[22]

The Military Council's Position on the U.S. – a Massive Achievement for the Revolution

Mahmoud Sultan, editor of the daily Al-Misriyyoun, praised the courage displayed by the Military Council in its stand against the U.S.: "For the first time, Cairo is taking a strong position like this, and [not just against anyone but] against Washington, the most powerful international ally that holds the aid checks for Egypt... For the first time, Cairo detains high-level American political and human rights [activists] who enjoy the protection of U.S. legislative institutions...

"It was expected that the generals of the Egyptian Military Council would follow in the footsteps of the previous regime and avoid provoking Washington, fearing for the military aid. However, detaining Americans, and [not just any Americans but] ones with great political and international weight, indicates that monumental changes are occurring in terms of [our] national independence on one hand, and the independence of the judiciary system from the executive branch on the other. This is one of the greatest achievements of the January 25 revolution."[23]

*L. Lavi and N. Shamni are research fellows at MEMRI.



[1] On the origins of the Egypt-U.S. crisis over the investigation of civil society organizations in Egypt, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.765, "In Egypt, Official Campaign against Foreign Funding of Civil Society Organizations Sparks Controversy, Crisis with U.S." November 23, 2011, In Egypt, Official Campaign against Foreign Funding of Civil Society Organizations Sparks Controversy, Crisis with U.S..

[2] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), January 5, 2012.

[3] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), January 1, 2012.

[4] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 27, 2012.

[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 1, 2012.

[6] Al-Ahram; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 30, 2012.

[7], December 31, 2011.

[8] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 2, 2012.

[9] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 29, 2012.

[10] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 6, 2012.

[11] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), February 7, 2012.

[12] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.4460, "Article in Egyptian Al-Wafd Daily: The American Naval Medical Research Unit Three (NAMRU-3) Is a Devil Controlling and Undermining the Egyptians' Health," January 30, 2012, Article in Egyptian Al-Wafd Daily: The American Naval Medical Research Unit Three (NAMRU-3) Is a Devil Controlling and Undermining the Egyptians' Health.

[13] Al-Ahram; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 27, 2012.

[14] See MEMRI JTTM Report No. 4413, "'Egyptian Revolutionary Guard' Threatens to Attack U.S. Embassy", January 9, 2012,¶m=GJN

[15] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 7, 2012.

[16] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), January 29, 2012.

[18] Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 30, 2012.

[19] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 1, 2012.

[20] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), February 1, 2012.

[21] October (Egypt), July 31, 2011.

[22] Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 31, 2012.

[23] Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), January 31, 2012.

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