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Egypt's Shameful Prosecution of Americans Working for Democracy

Posted on the 10 February 2012 by Warigia @WarigiaBowman
The New York times published an interesting piece two days ago about Egypt's prosecution of 19 Americans for "manipulating the Egyptian political process, and "improperly collecting information to send home to the United States." (David D. Kirkpatrick, "Egypt's Premier Vows Not to Yield in Prosecuting 19 Americans," The New York Times, February 8, 2012.) The piece sparked my interest because it made me recall some experiences of mine in Egypt that could help put it in context.
Some of the groups involved include the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House, venerable democratic organizations all. As many as 10 foreigners including six Americans have been barred from traveling as part of a prosecution which alleges that these groups used "foreign funds to foment unrest in the country. There is a lot to say about this prosecution. Let me focus on three ideas raised by this story: paranoia and xenophobia about foreigners, the SCAF construction of an alternate reality, and active work against democratization.
First, there is a real strain of strong anti-American sentiment in the popular psyche among some Egyptians. Some view America as an imperial power allied with Israel.  This prosecution plays on that fear.  The SCAF loves to reference "foreign powers," who are responsible for everything from starting the July 25th Revolution, to provoking violence between Muslims and Christians, to now manipulating the political process. At a minimum, this incident should be viewed as a smokescreen to distract from public anger about military rule.
Second, the military junta has borrowed a page from the Mubarak Regime. They put an enormous amount of energy into creating an alternate political reality. Like the fictional Big Brother of George Orwell, or the real Soviet Union, the SCAF creates counter-narratives in the state owned press and the state owned TV. In these stories, the SCAF is protecting the beleaguered country from Israelis, spies, Qataris, thugs or other meddling powers intent on fomenting unrest. For example, according to the SCAF these foreign hands were the real murderers of civilians in Maspero, not the military.  Although prominent journalists such as Sarah Carr and groups like Amnesty International placed blame for the incident squarely at the military's feet, according the fictional SCAF narrative, it was the Christians who attacked the soldiers in Maspero, not the other way around. One of the most distressing aspects of teaching in Egypt was seeing that some of my students, who were very educated and generally thoughtful, found the SCAF narrative persuasive.
Finally, I would put this incident into the category of a systematic attempt by the SCAF to stay in power. The SCAF does not want to relinquish power, and it does not want the government to be run by civilians. The military has significant financial interests in staying in power. Further, many argue that although Mubarak is now gone, the body of the many headed hydra remains, run by the head named SCAF. This prosecution should be seen as an effort to harass, intimidate, prosecute, jail and oppress persons or groups, whether Egyptian or foreign committed to the democratization of Egypt.

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