Reflections on the revolution in Egypt

egyptreflectionsThe problem is not that Egyptians are averse to liberalism, it’s that no one has offered them the option, says Hudson Institute analyst Samuel Tadros. Democracy assistance too often comprised technical training rather than genuinely political aid, he contends in this extract from his new book, Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt. 

The most important legacy of President Bush’s Freedom Agenda was not the pressure it put on regimes, for that soon subsided, but the new world that was opened to dissidents and opponents of Mubarak. Dissidents were suddenly international celebrities, and the newly acquired attention protected many of them from the worst of the regime’s practices. Egyptian activists and bloggers were showered with invitations to meetings and speeches in the US and Europe, and the regime was put more on the defensive as its practices received further scrutiny and criticism. More consequential, however, were the tools and opportunities that were suddenly put at the dissidents’ disposal.

In December 2002 Secretary of State Colin Powell had announced the creation of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). One of its aims, he indicated, was “to close the freedom gap with projects to strengthen civil society, expand political participation, and lift the voices of women.” Together with MEPI, the US Agency for International Development began to focus more on democracy funding in the region. US democracy promotion organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House received more funding to bridge that freedom gap.

The results were nothing less than spectacular.

Thousands of Egyptians traveled to the United States in a variety of programs that aimed to provide them with the necessary tools to change their societies. Thousands of training sessions were held in the US, the region, and around the world to teach activists new ways to organize and mobilize. They learned how to use new technology to their advantage. Hundreds of Egyptian civil society organizations received funding for political training and election monitoring. Experiences were being transferred as veterans from pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe trained Egyptian activists on how to challenge the authoritarian regime. Regional ties were being created as thousands of activists from across the Arab world were being introduced to one another and sharing their experiences.

Funding illiberal anti-Americans

Nevertheless in the rush to support activists and dissidents and close the freedom gap, something was largely missing: the content that would fill the gap. Action, not theory, was what was sought. Activists were being provided tools but no substance to use them for. Human rights activists were being trained on how to document abuses, but no one paid attention to explaining the intellectual foundation of why these were considered abuses in the first place. Newer computers were being provided to Egyptian newspapers, but the same anti-American, anti-Semitic, conspiracy theory-driven articles were being written. Some of the programs, like those run by any bureaucracy, and the American one is no exception, suffered from the problem of giving people a fish per day instead of training them how to fish.

More profoundly, no one paid the slightest attention to explaining why fishing was good in the first place. In a region that had not developed a natural rights discourse, democracy assistance only exasperated its ills instead of helping cure them. Human freedom was being downgraded and replaced by a mere tool; democracy and democracy promotion became a goal in itself with no understanding of what that democracy might produce.

No war of ideas

Activists were being trained, but who were they and what did they advocate? No one seemed to care. Anyone who was neither part of the regime nor a member of a terrorist organization seemed to qualify for US benevolence. It mattered little if those activists were actively attempting to replace the oppressive regime with worse ones of the Islamist, Nasserite, or communist variant. Any regime opponent was described as a liberal and every beardless activist depicted a secular. While Western policy-makers spoke of a war of ideas being waged for the hearts and minds of the region’s citizens, they hardly provided any ideas to compete with the prevalent leftist and Islamist ideas that dominated Arab culture. Ultimately they were only providing the existing anti-American ideologists with better tools.

With abundant funding, civil society organizations were becoming more attractive to young Egyptians than political parties. Some were genuine believers, but in a political environment in which opposition parties suffered from the same diseases afflicting the ruling one, civil society organizations provided a much-needed breathing space. They also provided an opportunity for personal development, fame, and economic advancement. But it was not any associations that were being promoted, but a particular kind—human rights NGOs. Funding was available for monitoring elections, documenting abuses, even video journalism, but not much more. A new generation of activists was trained to approach Egypt’s democratic deficit from a rights perspective, not politics. People were trained how to protest and challenge autocracy; no one was trained on how to politically organize, formulate programs, and compromise. The depletion of talent from political parties would be a problem that would have a profound eff ect on the future of the Egyptian revolution.

The generation that had left politics for human rights advocacy could not be suddenly expected to make the transition back. Human rights defenders are fighting for a noble cause. They do not negotiate, they never compromise. There is no negotiation between the abused and the abuser, no compromise between the tortured and the torturer. As Burke wrote: “They have ‘the rights of men.’ Against these there can be no prescription; against these no agreement is binding: these admit no temperament, and no compromise: anything withheld from their full demand is so much of fraud and injustice.”

Contempt for politics

Pragmatism is not a virtue in the world of human rights advocacy. Asked what he had in mind for his movement’s future, April 6 founder Ahmed Maher replied: “April 6 will monitor Parliament’s performance and confront any mistakes. . . . The group will continue to mobilize in Tahrir Square when necessary.” His colleague in the movement, Mohamed Adel described their priorities: “building a new state, societal reform, and putting pressure on anyone in power.” If they clung to their previous practices, it was because they knew no other.

The contempt the revolutionaries held for politics was most apparent in their accusations against the Muslim Brotherhood. Its greatest crime, in their eyes, was having betrayed the demands of the revolution and cutting a deal with SCAF. Regardless of the truthfulness of the accusation, that it was viewed as an accusation in the first place is remarkable. Politics by its very nature is the art of negotiation, compromise, and cutting deals. No political actor is likely to achieve all his aspirations, at least not one who does not have a monopoly on the state. Given that the revolutionaries had the weakest hand among the three contending groups, they should have been the one who most sought a deal. Nothing of the sort took place. The few non-Islamists who were willing to negotiate with SCAF and guarantee a state where Islamists would not dominate the country and transform society in return for preserving the military’s interests were pronounced traitors by the revolutionaries. Negotiations were a betrayal to the blood of martyrs, they said.

In the end it was all or nothing. Naturally, they got nothing.

The revolutionaries’ worst offense, however, was their complete ignorance of the country they sought to transform. Their imaginary Egypt had no relationship to the actual Egypt. When Salafis began demanding an Islamic state, many a revolutionary expressed surprise and admitted not knowing Salafis existed in Egypt. When attacks on Christians intensified, many a revolutionary were astonished by the level of sectarianism in the country. When Egyptians elected Islamists to Parliament, the revolutionaries could not understand why they didn’t vote for the revolution’s party. When Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik received the highest number of votes in the first round of the presidential election, there was genuine shock among the revolutionaries. Burke had described their French ancestors as “men who never had seen the state so much as in a picture.” His words have never rang truer.

A liberal democracy is not born out of thin air. It requires the existence of liberal democrats. And if the term means something more than people who are simply not Islamists and not extreme leftists, then they are absent in Egyptian politics. There are very few liberals in Egypt, not because Egyptians are averse to liberalism or are different from any other people, but because there is no liberalism in Egypt. There is no liberal discourse in the public square. People cannot belong to an ideology that does not exist. With hardly any liberal books written in Arabic and no translations of the major works of Western liberalism, those liberals in Egypt are but a privileged few who are able and willing to read in a foreign language.

Today, Egypt’s former revolutionaries are split between the submissive and the delusional, between those who have become no more than cheerleaders for a military coup and those who continue to dream of an endless revolution— or, as Leszek Kolakowski once remarked, “between lovers of prostitutes and lovers of clouds: those who know only the satisfaction of the moment . . . and those who lose themselves in otiose imaginings.” It is easy to mistake them for helpless victims, men caught like Oedipus in a tragedy they cannot control. Greek tragedies, however, have little to offer in understanding the story of the Egyptian revolution and its failure, but perhaps another Greek contribution to civilization might be better suited for the task—Greek mythology. Unless they begin to learn from their mistakes, unless they embark on a journey of discovering their own country, unless they educate themselves not on the newest technology but on the oldest books, unless they start offering their countrymen something more than abstract principles, they are forever doomed, like Sisyphus, condemned eternally to repeatedly roll a heavy rock up a hill only to have it roll down again as it nears the top. An eternity of fruitless labor and endless disappointment.


Non-Western roots of international democracy support

A striking feature of international democracy support is the connection between a country’s domestic experience with democracy and the shape of its efforts to promote democracy beyond its borders, according to Carnegie analysts Richard Youngs and Thomas Carothers.

The nature of a state’s democratic transition inevitably influences how it perceives and interacts with transition processes in other countries. In addition, the specific form of its own democratic institutions will condition how it seeks to support institutional reform in other countries.

These linkages can be a source of strength. By drawing on their country’s own experiences with a particular institutional form or political process, aid providers and democracy activists can offer usefully grounded knowledge to others grappling with similar challenges. Yet they can also prove problematic if those same actors try to export their own transitional experiences and institutional forms to disparate contexts in which different democratic solutions are needed. Western support for democracy around the world in recent decades has often embodied both the strengths and weaknesses of such internal-external linkages.

As rising democracies in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere increasingly engage in supporting democracy outside their borders, internal-external linkages in this domain take new forms. Often these countries have only relatively recently transitioned from authoritarian to democratic rule, and thus lessons from their own experience about how democratization should or should not unfold are vivid in the minds of policymakers and aid providers. ….

Thus, exploring the internal-external linkages that characterize the democracy support work of rising democracies is a useful early step in gaining a deeper appreciation of how these countries go about such work. It sheds light on the assertion made by actors in some rising democracies that their external democracy work benefits from political nuances and sensitivities that Western democracy assistance may lack.

To help illuminate this issue, experts in the recently established Carnegie Rising Democracies Network explain, on a case-by-case basis, how the experience of democratic transition influences external democracy support policies in Brazil, Chile, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, and Eastern Europe. These case studies highlight how the expanding range of actors involved in international democracy support is increasing the variety and complexity of the field overall.

BRAZIL – Oliver Stuenkel

Brazil’s democratic transition, which began in the late 1970s, was gradual, steady, and relatively peaceful. After introducing free and fair national elections in the 1980s, the government undertook market-oriented reforms and controlled inflation in the 1990s and initiated broad cash-transfer programs to reduce poverty and inequality in the 2000s….

Compared to other countries’ experiences, the Brazilian political transition was relatively drawn out. …..Democratization occurred without the explicit intervention of international actors (the IMF played a key role in the 1980s, but it was not a prodemocratic force). This fact helps explain why Brazilian foreign policy makers today remain skeptical that outside intervention of any kind can be of much help in a country’s quest to democratize, even though Brazilian political leaders agree that outsiders can at times help mediate internal conflicts. Furthermore, Brazil’s relatively smooth and bloodless transition contributed to a natural reluctance to support potentially disruptive prodemocratic movements that may lead to sudden instability and complicate civil-military relations. ….

CHILE - Claudio Fuentes

Following Chile’s transition to democracy in 1990, the country’s new leaders began developing a set of foreign policy initiatives to promote human rights abroad. Several consecutive governments promoted Chile’s proactive involvement in various regional and global institutions—the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Organization of American States, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Labor Organization, and the UN Security Council, among others. Under these governments, the Chilean armed forces also participated in international peacekeeping operations and contributed to international debates on pressing global issues, such as the UN discussion on the global responsibility to protect populations from war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. 

Chile’s domestic experience of transition helped inform this proactive approach in three ways.

First, the experience of human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990, pushed Chile’s new democratic authorities to make human rights protection a foreign policy priority….Second, Chile’s first generation of democratically elected policymakers played a crucial role in shaping the country’s emphasis on international human rights protection. ……Third, policy continuity also played an important role in bringing human rights to center stage. …..

These three factors—historical context, political leadership, and substantial policy continuity—were crucial in shaping Chile’s considerable engagement in advancing human rights abroad.

INDIA - Niranjan Sahoo

Once considered an unlikely candidate for democracy, India’s political journey continues to surprise international observers. With each passing election, India’s democratic credentials have grown stronger. Unsurprisingly, successful democratic governance in a large and highly diverse country like India that is plagued by mass poverty and low levels of literacy has attracted considerable academic interest and global recognition. Given India’s success, Western powers tend to see the country as a beacon of democracy in a region characterized by authoritarian regimes and failed states.

However, India remains hesitant to exercise soft power to promote democracy beyond its borders. ….The reasons why India tends to avoid including democracy support in its foreign policy stem from the country’s complex domestic politics and institutional processes. Respect for national sovereignty, a legacy of India’s anticolonial struggle and Cold War anxiety, remains an abiding principle of the country’s foreign policy. The memory of colonial subjugation and perceived virtues of nonalignment, through which India sought to position itself as the leader of the Third World, mean that Indian diplomats still tend toward nonintervention and active or interventionist democracy support finds few backers within India’s foreign policy establishment. ….

India’s dismal rights records, domestic vulnerabilities, volatile neighborhood, and rocky democratic transition have a decisive bearing on India’s foreign policy postures when it comes to values such as democracy support. Given this, India’s democracy support has mostly been in the form of extending technical assistance, capacity building, and institutional strengthening.

Yet, in recent years, there has been considerable positive movement with regard to India’s changing worldview on the role of democracy and human rights concerns in its foreign policy. The interaction of various internal and external stimuli seems to be creating an environment that is conducive to increasing democracy promotion efforts…..

INDONESIA - I Ketut Putra Erawan

The case of Indonesia exemplifies the close connection between a country’s experiences in democratization and its initiatives for external democracy support. Democracy and reform processes in Indonesia, reformasi, are perceived as new foundational national values and experiences that need to be nurtured internally and shared externally. The country’s experience of democratization strongly colors the characteristics and approach of its external democracy support initiatives in a number of ways. …..

The country’s democratic transition entailed the positive engagement and interaction of the state with civil society and other nonstate actors. The emergence of reformers from inside Indonesia’s state institutions brought not only greater legitimacy to the process of change but also the possibility of reforming the state from the inside. The engagement of civil society, media, and other nonstate activists then became crucial for sustaining the reform process.

As a result, Indonesian democracy support efforts target state, civil society, and nonstate actors. Through the Bali Democracy Forum initiative, an annual intergovernmental summit on the development of democracy in the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia engages state actors in its neighborhood and beyond to share their experiences with and learn about democracy.

Lessons and experiences made available by international and regional actors and institutions informed Indonesia’s democratic consolidation. These external partners shared with Indonesia examples of constitution building, legal reforms, party reform, accountability mechanisms, and other institution-building challenges. International and regional actors provided support while respecting Indonesia’s internal processes and its leaders, an approach that is now reflected in the country’s emerging foreign policy.

JAPAN – Maiko Ichihara

Japan is one of the few countries that did not democratize as a result of a domestic social movement for political change. Instead, the current democratic regime was installed in the aftermath of World War II by external forces led by the United States. Due to the lack of a mass democratization movement in their own country, the Japanese remain generally opposed to supporting popular struggles for political change abroad. ….

Japan has a relatively weak democratic tradition, which is reflected in the country’s external democracy assistance policy. While the Japanese government has launched multiple policy frameworks on democracy support since the early 1990s, the country has not become a major player in the field. Between 1995 and 2012, Japan on average only allocated approximately 1 percent of its official development assistance to democracy support. ….

SOUTH AFRICA – Tjiurimo Alfredo Hengari

At the heart of South Africa’s transition was a model of tolerance and overcoming injustice. An abiding legacy of South Africa’s transition is that democratization was about “the weak” prevailing over “the strong.” That model now sits at the root of South Africa’s external projection, and this ethos continues to condition the way democracy support is woven into the broader aspects of South African foreign policy. 

A result of this legacy is a duality in South Africa’s foreign policy. During the apartheid years, South Africans saw some countries providing considerable support to the African National Congress (ANC) while other countries supported the government the ANC was fighting. As a result, some in the ANC came to associate democratic transitions with overcoming Western geostrategic neoimperialism; this has bred a reluctance to be at all interventionist in foreign policy. On the other hand, some came to see democracy support more as a civic-led movement with strong links across borders. This school of thought has pushed for more active South African democracy promotion policies built on support for civil society rather than cautious government-to-government, sovereigntist diplomacy. …..

Through the legacy of the past and the messianic tone used by the ANC as it was endorsing the transition in 1994, South Africa has elevated itself to a principled role, and it could serve as a guarantor and promoter of democratic norms and values, particularly in Africa. However, the past two decades have witnessed shortcomings in the manner in which such values have been instituted in South Africa’s external democracy support initiatives. The same features of the country’s transition that inspire others also inhibit or confuse South African democracy promotion efforts abroad. The normative bases in the country’s foreign policy, with democracy at the core, have been pursued inconsistently—albeit within the limits of what is possible and permissible in light of South Africa’s own history and the structural international political context in which the country operates.

SOUTH KOREA - Sook Jong Lee

South Korea’s democratic transition began in 1987, when the ruling authoritarian regime gave in to popular demands to reinstate direct presidential elections (an indirect system had been in place since 1972). The country’s democratization struggle drew the participation of diverse liberal segments of South Korean civil society. The involvement of white-collar workers and middle-class citizens in this struggle played a critical role in pushing the country’s ruling elites to seek a compromise for political liberalization. ….. 

The role of international organizations or foreign governments in this evolution was limited. In fact, the United States, an influential ally of South Korea, did little to press the ruling authoritarian regimes for reform at critical junctures in the process of democratization.

South Korea’s democratic transition thus grew out of successful internal modernization. It was successful only after the country had already modernized substantially.

This particular pattern explains why South Korea today supports the democratization of developing countries primarily through indirect means. Although South Korea experienced a tenacious internal struggle for political change and has evolved into a vibrant democracy, its government and nongovernmental organizations remain reluctant to support democratization struggles in other parts of the world directly. Having experienced no such intervention from the outside world during their own democratic transition, most Koreans view autonomous democratization as the most viable path.

Moreover, South Koreans tend to believe that democracy is sustainable only once a certain level of economic development has been achieved. …..

TURKEY – Senem Aydin-Düzgit

Nowhere is the linkage between a country’s domestic political system and its support for democracy and human rights beyond its borders more visible than in Turkey. In the Turkish case, this connection is best illustrated through three main processes. 

The first concerns the debates on Turkey’s potential as a democratic model in the Middle East. Turkey became active in democracy promotion after the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 in what was widely seen as a test case of whether Islam and democracy could indeed be compatible in a modern state. ….

A second important internal-external linkage in the Turkish case pertains to the ways in which the AKP, particularly after the Arab Spring, has used the discourse of democracy promotion in the Middle East and North Africa to consolidate its power base at home….

A final key linkage between domestic political developments and Turkish democracy promotion efforts concerns the rise of neo-Islamist ideology, which became prevalent across the Turkish state and government bureaucracy with the AKP’s ascent to power. In the foreign policy realm, this ideology envisions a strong revival of Turkey’s soft power in the post-Ottoman space through the country’s cultural, historical, and religious ties to the region. It is therefore no coincidence that the volume and scope of Turkish democracy assistance (as well as its development and humanitarian assistance) in neighboring regions has increased substantially under AKP rule. The regional dimension went hand in hand with the AKP’s internal political project and was mirrored in the nature of external democracy support.

EASTERN EUROPE  - Tsveta Petrova

The Eastern European members of the EU, and especially Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Lithuania, are some of the most active emerging donors providing external democracy support. Unlike many other new democracies, Eastern European states do not negatively associate democracy promotion with an imposition of Western values. In fact, for much of Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War was a victory for the democratic West over the regional imperial power, the Soviet Union, and its autocratic governance system. ….

As a result, democracy promotion efforts by Eastern European governments and civil society actors primarily stem from the desire to share their own transition experiences with other countries struggling to overcome authoritarian rule, and the Eastern European countries’ own democratic experiences have influenced their foreign policy priorities. Eastern European democracy promoters thus very consciously and purposefully pass on best practices and lessons learned about what worked and what failed during their own transitions. ….

Eastern European democracy promoters also prioritize work with governing elites in recipient countries. Most of this work has been primarily political, that is, building and strengthening the prodemocratic forces within recipient states rather than focusing, like many other donors do, on recipients’ socioeconomic and state development as an intermediate step toward political liberalization.

Lastly, the influence of the Eastern Europeans’ democratic experiences on these countries’ democracy promotion priorities has produced some distinctive thematic investments and policy instrument preferences. For instance, Hungary prefers to implement democracy assistance projects with the consent of the host government and often emphasizes human and especially minority rights questions. Czech diplomats, on the other hand, strongly believe in the power of “naming and shaming” oppressive regimes at the international level. And Estonia has invested in sharing its distinctive e-governance expertise in the realms of information policy and transparency with regional partners. In each case, these thematic priorities reflect aspects central to the country’s own democratic transition.

CONCLUSIONS – Richard Youngs and Thomas Carothers

The group of states included here as rising democracies went through different processes of transition. …..Each of these countries draws on the distinct features of its own transition to inform the way in which and the extent to which its supports democracy externally. This internal-external link can be purposive or more instinctive. That is, in some cases these countries seek to share their own transition experiences directly through democracy initiatives that they fund in other countries. In other cases, they simply tend to believe that the nature of their own transition represents the best way for political change to occur. Central and Eastern European states often foster civic activism as something positive, for example, while for Brazil elite-led change is seen as more desirable. 

These types of internal-external links can be seen as both advantageous and problematic. Rising democracies make a valuable contribution to democratization by sharing their own distinctive experiences. They can add much useful experience that is not so readily available to Western democracy promoters. Arguably, however, there is not sufficient recognition on the part of rising democracies that their own models of change might not be the most appropriate for some other societies. Rising democracies struggle to detach from their own transition experiences and design their external support from an understanding of the local desires and particularities of the countries in which they operate.

In addition, as with established Western democracies, at times these countries operate from myths about their own transitions that underplay complexities and can be unhelpful if projected onto other states. As they fine-tune their democracy support, these rising democracies grapple with the same difficulty that established Western democracies have long faced: they benefit in some ways from the richness of their internal experiences, but they are simultaneously hindered in other ways by the local specificities of their own experiences and models.


International norms affirm civil society’s right to funding

protectingcivilspaceGeneral-Principles-5001The ability to seek, receive and use resources is inherent to the right to freedom of association, according to a new report from UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai and the Community of Democracies.

The document outlines a set of “general principles” under international human rights norms and standards in an effort to enhance understanding of civil society’s right to access resources. It also provides arguments and legal backing to support specific aspects of each principle, with hyperlinks to source documents.

“The exercise of the right to freedom of association is severely curtailed and rendered null if the access to resources is restricted as demonstrated by the decline in the number of associations, decrease of activities or extinction of other associations,” according to General Principle 1.

General Principle 2 specifies that “states must allow associations to seek, receive and use foreign funding as a part of their obligation under international human rights law to mobilize resources available within the society as a whole and from the interna­tional community.”

Any limitation must pursue a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society; restrictive measures must be the least intrusive means to achieve the desired objective and be limited to the associations falling within the clearly identified aspects characterizing terrorism only.

According to General Principle 3: The civil society and corporate sectors should be governed by an equitable set of rules and regulations – i.e., sectoral equity.

“Governments must refrain from adopting measures that disproportionately target or burden CSOs, such as imposing onerous vetting rules, procedures or other CSO-specific requirements not applied to the corporate sector.”

The principles are extracted from the Special Rapporteur’s 2013 report to the Human Rights Council, which focused on associations’ ability to seek, receive and utilize resources. It is available here in all six UN languages.



Kerry: US wants Egypt to succeed as a democracy but senior lawmaker blocks military aid


Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Egypt has made progress in its democratic transition but must address ‘‘disturbing’’ developments if its government is to have the confidence of the Egyptian people and others, AP reports. His comments came as a key lawmaker said he wouldn’t allow the release of any U.S. aid to Egypt until the government proves it is committed to the rule of law.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said he would not support additional military aidin the wake of mass death sentences handed out by Egyptian courts this week, adding significant pressure on the Obama administration to shift course, Jonathan Weisman writes for The New York Times:  

“I’m not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military,” Mr. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said on the Senate floor. “I’m not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, a leading voice on military affairs, said he favored continuing military aid but wants any economic assistance to be tied to democracy promotion and funneled through nongovernmental organizations…..

Mr. Leahy, from his perch as chairman of the Senate foreign operations appropriations subcommittee, has long wielded outsize influence on foreign aid decisions.

“It’s a flaunting of human rights by the Egyptian government. It’s an appalling abuse of the justice system, which is fundamental to any democracy. Nobody, nobody, can justify this. It does not show democracy. It shows a dictatorship run amok. It is a total violation of human rights,” Leahy said.

“He’s influential,” said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who cautioned that any move needed to look at “the totality of our interests.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, Leahy said he was extremely disturbed by the Egyptian government’s “flouting of human rights and appalling abuse of the justice system,” according to the Project for Middle East Democracy.

“The US administration keeps trying to split the difference, sending the message that they want to keep up security cooperation with the Egyptian government but at the same time that they don’t approve of the coup and the massive human rights abuses that have followed,” said Michelle Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“I think these helicopters are intended to show support for the fight against terrorism in the Sinai and not for General [Abdel Fatah] al-Sisi’s presidential campaign, but that’s not an easy distinction to make,” she said.

“The other problem with delivering the Apaches is that there is a strong risk that they will be used in carrying out serious human rights abuses – basically collective punishment of entire communities – in the Sinai,” said Dunne, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

“This would be a direct violation of President Obama’s January 2014 directive against providing conventional weapons in situations where they are likely to be used to commit human rights violations or to associate the United States with such violations,” she added.

No effect

“For many Egyptians and other Arabs, including liberals and Islamists, the U.S. reaction will have no effect on Egypt’s ruling junta,” according to Emile Nakhleh, a former director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Programme at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). “This perceived non-action will empower the junta in its bloody crackdown on all kinds of opposition and its continuing massive human rights violations,” he told IPS.

The State of Democracy Assistance


Democracy assistance or “promotion” has been a core form of U.S. and European engagement in the developing world for decades, Patrick Quirk writes for the Transatlantic Academy.

For democracy and those external actors seeking to help spread it across the globe, this year was a mixed bag; with setbacks in countries seeking transitions away from authoritarian rule juxtaposed with promising developments on the supply side of democracy assistance.

Troubles within the transatlantic democracies aside, elsewhere across the globe there was more “backsliding” — according to Freedom House this was the eighth year in a row where more countries (54) experienced declines in freedom than those which garnered gains (40). Transatlantic efforts to support these processes came under fire for a lack of coordination, incoherent strategy, or insufficient resources.

American public support for engagement abroad in general—and democracy assistance particularly — also took a hit in 2013. 52 percent of Americans agreed their country should “let other countries get along the best they can on their own,” according to Pew. Though never high to begin with, U.S. public support for democracy promotion as “a top policy goal” dipped to 18 percent from 29 percent in 2001. 63 percent polled said having stable regimes in MENA was more important than democracy taking root there.

Following news that the U.S. would reduce by $160 million democracy assistance dollars for MENA, some said the Administration was “abandoning” democracy in the region and downgrading democracy promotion as a foreign policy tool. Though funding indeed declined, these statements are overblown. Mitigating terrorist threats and safeguarding energy flows in MENA were always considered more vital to U.S. national security than helping democracy take root; and the administration’s calibration toward “nation building at home” tracks prior statecraft patterns where years expending blood and treasure abroad render domestic stakeholders weary of such endeavors. The U.S. perhaps moderated its focus on democracy assistance abroad but by no means permanently tossed it from the foreign policy toolkit.

On the “supply side” of democracy aid, two developments signal that — rhetoric and funding decreases aside — the transatlantic democracies remain committed to supporting democracy abroad in the coming years.

First, the European Union launched the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). ….Two factors make the EED’s launch a notable development. First is its leaner operational platform comprised of “flexible, non-bureaucratic and dedicated procedures that are tailored to the needs and demands on the ground.” In practice and relative to the extant democracy aid donor landscape, this could translate into less red tape for grant-seekers, faster turnaround times for allocating financial support, and monies focused on activities in target countries rather than home office overhead.

And second is the EED’s mandate to support to a wide range of pro-democracy actors, with the sole/core criteria being they “adhere to core democratic values, and human rights as well as subscribe to principles of non-violence.” Where many Western donors are hamstrung by stove-piped funding streams earmarked for a specific area/actor, the Endowment has liberty to support actors ranging from “pro-democratic movements” and youth activists to newspapers facing forced closure. It remains to be seen if EED’s model will bear intended fruit; nonetheless, its expansive mandate and nimble operational structure should position it well to make impacts moving forward.

The second significant development occurred in Washington, where the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) rolled out its new strategy for supporting democracy abroad. USAID’s “Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance” builds on lessons learned from the Agency’s prior engagements and lays out a coherent framework for Washington to constructively support human dignity and freedom across the world. Importantly, it elevates human rights as a key component to USAID’s strategy and creates staff positions to ensure marginalized persons’ considerations (gender, LGBT, and others) are integrated across all programming streams. …..

The transatlantic policy communities should look for three developments in 2014.

First, there will be no rapid reversals on 2013’s democratic backsliding. This is particularly true for the Middle East, where a long road lies ahead for polities reconciling religious principles with pillars of representative governance to chart the most appropriate path for their peoples. It now seems clear that what many hoped would take two years will likely take two decades or more.

Second, funding decreases aside, the U.S. and Europe will by no means jettison democracy aid to the foreign policy trash bin. Rather, and building from new strategies such as that of USAID, the transatlantic allies will continue and perhaps inject new energy into support for democratic processes and activists abroad as a strategic tool. In so doing, however, democracy aid providers will continue to confront the evolving and expanding “backlash” against their efforts by less-than-democratic governments who have more to lose than gain from democracy taking root within their borders.

And finally, the European Endowment for Democracy may swell its role in the democracy aid world. Pending outcomes of its initial interventions, EED’s modest budget (€6.2 million) should increase and perhaps attract allocations from the U.K., France, and Italy.

This piece was originally published in “the State of the Transatlantic World.”