An Absurd Rumor is Spreading: That the U.S. Bankrolled Anti-Morsi Figures in Egypt

Earlier this month, Al Jazeera English published an article "Exclusive: U.S. bankrolled anti-Morsi activists." It reports that the U.S. government, working in conjunction with NGOs, funded politicians critical of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi — including such colorful characters as Col. Omar Afifi Soliman, who advocated the violent overthrow of both Morsi and former president Hosi Mubarak, and Esraa Abdel Fattah, who urged activists to attack mosques and preachers who supported the Islamist constitution. Their article is irritatingly disingenuous, as it implies that the United States was interfering in Egypt's democratic process, when, instead, the piece should address legitimate concerns about the unscrupulous actors that the United States funded with taxpayer money.

Al Jazeera, an otherwise reputable network, fails to make it explicit that they found no evidence of U.S. funding after 2011 — i.e., that funding appears to have stopped well before Morsi took power in legitimate democratic elections in 2012. Instead, the article builds on its misleading premise, claiming that the State Department's democracy assistance initiative violates an Egyptian law that forbids political funding from foreign sources, as well as an American law forbidding the funding of political campaigns in foreign democracies. Again, none of the funding continued after 2011, meaning that funds only went to activists who were opposing the Mubarak regime and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), and not those opposing Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Misleading accusations of a U.S. conspiracy against Morsi aside, what is indisputable is that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), funded by Congress, made some ethically questionable decisions about who to fund in Egypt during Mubarak's regime.

The article accurately reports that NED began funding Col. Omar Afifi Soliman in 2008, naming him a democracy fellow. Under Mubarak, Soliman served in an Egyptian investigative police unit that was known for human rights abuses. After seeking asylum in the United States, Soliman began to advocate for the violent overthrow of the Mubarak regime, and then the Supreme Council of Armed forces, and most recently, the Morsi administration. He also recommended violence against government officials, as well as the Israeli and Saudi Arabian embassies.

Another recipient of NED funding was Esraa Abdel Fattah. Under Morsi, she encouraged secularists to attack mosques, and to forcibly remove preachers who supported the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist constitution, a tactic that has been disturbingly commonplace in Egypt over the past year. Although NED did not fund her after 2011, when she started espousing such incendiary tactics, her behavior raises questions as to how thoroughly NED vetted her commitment to nonviolent activism in the Mubarak era.

Al Jazeera's implication that the United States was funding activities against Morsi is incredibly infuriating, and a hallmark of bad journalism. Moreover, its inaccurate framing of the story will, in the minds of many readers, detract from the pertinent issue: the lack of oversight and accountability implicit in the U.S. aid apparatus. While foreign aid only represents 1% of the overall U.S. budget, it is still taxpayer money, and in order to use it as effectively as possible, all programs, especially political ones, must be carefully scrutinized, evaluated, and reevaluated for practical, financial, and ethical efficacy.