Egyptian Police Raid Pro-Democracy Groups: Should U.S. Cut Aid to Egypt?

Egyptian police raided 17 offices of pro-democracy and human rights groups Thursday over speculation that those groups are taking foreign money. Out of the 17 groups, three are supported by the United States.

With $1.3 billion of U.S. aid going to the ruling Egyptian military a year, this event is a clear violation of U.S. interests in the region. If the U.S. appears to be supporting autocratic regimes at a time where so many are seeking the democratic values the U.S. advocates, the America could possess the image of being on the wrong side of history regarding the Arab Spring.

Tensions are rising in Egypt as civilians demand a civil government. Ruling military generals claim that they will “step aside” by mid-2012 but protests continue as 27 people have been killed this month during violent clashes with police.

Although no arrests have been reported, police stormed the offices taking paperwork, cell phones, and laptops. Office employees were barred from leaving while the raids took place in Cairo. The military’s reasoning involves the supposedly illegal activity of receiving foreign money, which authorities view as a possible threat to the government and overall national stability.

Organizations raided Thursday include the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) which are loosely affiliated with the two major political parties in the U.S and help to promote political party development in Egypt. NDI President Kenneth Wollack said, “Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt’s historic transition sends a disturbing signal.”

The Egyptian office of the Washington, D.C., based Freedom House was also raided. The Freedom House's Director for Middle East and North Africa Programs Charles W. Dune, said, "In the current fiscal environment, the United States must not subsidize authoritarianism in Egypt while the Egyptian government is preventing non-governmental organizations from implementing democracy and human rights projects subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer.”

As for Washington’s response, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland referred to that raids as “harassment,” saying “We are very concerned because it is not appropriate in the current environment.” Nuland also stated, “We are looking for this issue to be resolved immediately.” Nuland hinted at the prospect that if the Egyptian military maintains its harsh stance towards pro-democracy groups, it would be difficult for further aid from the U.S. to pass through Congress.

Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri and his military generals should listen to these criticisms carefully. As fiscal issues remain paramount to many constituents of members of Congress, aid to seemingly autocratic regimes will come under harsh scrutiny. People will start to demand the cutting of aid money to the Egyptian military and thus create greater difficulties for Egypt. A democratic and civilian government must take hold in Egypt before more loss of life ensues and the people become more disenchanted with their political condition. At the same time, the U.S. must be careful not to appear to be on the wrong side of history in the Arab Spring. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons