Egypt's ruling generals cracked down
on American nonprofit groups and organizations that promote democracy, threatening a relationship with Washington that has brought the military billions of dollars in aid over the past three decades.
Egypt on Sunday referred 19 Americans, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and 24 other employees of pro-democracy nonprofit groups to trial before a criminal court on accusations they illegally used foreign funds to incite unrest in the country.
The referral came one day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Egypt that failure to resolve the dispute may lead to the loss of American aid.
This aggressive action against such groups raises several points for discussion:
The military is losing its public image
due to mishandling the transitional stage after the revolution and is thus trying to regain this public image by standing against the U.S.
Standing against the will of the strongest military power on earth — especially after the threats to stop the U.S. aid is perceived by many Egyptians as an act of honor that deserves respect.
This attitude (i.e. standing against the U.S.) partially explains why approximately seven in 10 Egyptians surveyed by Gallup
in December 2011 oppose U.S. economic aid to Egypt and a similar percentage opposes the U.S. sending direct aid to civil society groups.
The decline in public image of the military — which is still high — can be illustrated by the change of the slogan of many revolutionists from “People and Army are one hand” to “Down, Down to the military.”
The decision to crack down on pro-democracy groups by the military could be to regain their public image.
The passive attitude of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)
toward the attack on these pro-democracy groups illustrates their real nature. The MB did not object to cracking down on these groups despite the fact that the work of these groups to promote democracy is what brought them to power.
There is a possibility that the military
could be using the crackdown on US-supported groups as a preparatory step to a crackdown on the Muslim brotherhood as they also received unlawful foreign aid (from some Gulf countries) as well.
Cracking down on the powers that can stand against the military in sequential steps is wiser than cracking down on them in one step as this can lead to a strong public response and can unite these powers together.
Insisting that the military become under full civilian control
can end in a destructive struggle for power within the country that may threaten vital U.S. interests such as transport via the Suez Canal. The U.S. must be prepared for this possibility.
The possibility that the MB
— after arranging with the military — is behind this crackdown cannot be totally excluded. Removing these groups from the political scene in Egypt guarantees to the Islamists a smooth transition to an Islamic constitution that deprives women and minorities of equal rights as citizens.
The existence of pro-democracy groups represents a major obstacle and threat to passing such a constitution.
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