Sunday, January 30, 2011

Obama Administration Cut Funding to Promote Democracy in Egypt

A democratic Middle East was Bush's vision/goal, not Obama's (at least as far as efforts go toward making it happen).

"But when it comes to backing up the president's rhetoric since that speech in June 2009, the administration has a decidedly mixed record and has disappointed many Egyptians, foreign policy experts tell The Huffington Post. Though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has championed human rights around the world and American diplomats have quietly encouraged political and legal reforms in Egypt, when it comes to promoting democracy in the riot-torn country, efforts have generally been less aggressive than the Bush administration's. On Friday, amidst violent protests, longtime leader Hosni Mubarak announced the resignation of Egypt's government.

In its first year, the Obama administration cut funding for democracy and governance programming in Egypt by more than half, from $50 million in 2008 to $20 million in 2009 (Congress later appropriated another $5 million). The level of funding for civil society programs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was cut disproportionately, from $32 million to only $7 million. Though funding levels for 2010 are not yet available, they are expected to show an increase to $14 million, says Stephen McInerny, the director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. He notes that the Bush administration slashed economic aid to Egypt in the 2009 budget but kept the funding for democracy and governance programs constant, while Obama cut funding to those programs in an effort to make the cuts more proportional and under pressure from the American embassy in Cairo.

The White House and the State Department did not return emails for comment.

In addition, the administration limited funding only to NGOs registered with the Egyptian government, oversees such groups broadly and can dissolve them for violations like receiving foreign funding. Most human rights groups are not registered with the government, according to an Egyptian academic interviewed by the U.S. Embassy. The widely-criticized change,
taken in the wake of intense pressure from Egyptian officials for the U.S. to stop funding non-registered groups, reversed a Bush-era policy of funding all NGOs and civil society programs.

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