The military/industrial junta that continues to rule Egypt in defiance of the majority of Egyptians has just made another big blunder. The military says it will put on trial 19 Americans who belong to groups that have been “promoting democracy” in Egypt. The Obama administration and Congress warn that the prosecution will jeopardize this year’s $1.55 billion in American aid, which includes $1.3 billion for the military itself.
The generals are trying to blame “foreign hands” for the continuing mass movement for democracy, and foolishly believe that singling out Americans will confuse the Egyptian public. The military will almost certainly have to back down very soon.
Meanwhile, who are these Americans, and who are they to teach Egyptians about democracy? The two main groups are the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI); they are funded by the U.S. government, and they have been fishy since they started in 1983. Back then they were part of an effort to whitewash the Reagan administration’s criminal and murderous armed interventions in Central America, and they continue their dishonest work; the NRI gave support to the illegal 2009 military coup in Honduras.
But even if the IRI and the NDI genuinely followed their nonpartisan charters, why do Egyptians need lessons in democracy? Over the past few years, the Egyptian people have bravely staged strikes and mass demonstrations, full of enthusiasm, creativity, and humor. Courageous Egyptians, both secular liberals and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, have been jailed for years and tortured just for speaking out, but they did not turn to violence, even though nearly one thousand of them have died so far. They have fought for the right to vote in free elections, and then exercised that right peacefully over the past few months.
Meanwhile, an election season is also starting in the United States. Here, big money has never been more powerful. The Republicans have already spent obscene amounts on television advertising. A single donor, a billionaire Las Vegas gambling czar, has already invested millions to move American policy even more closely toward Israel. An unenthusiastic electorate awaits more mud-slinging.
Here’s a suggestion; Congress should stop funding the IRI and the NDI. Instead, invite groups of young people from Tahrir Square – let’s call them the Egyptian Democracy Institute – to visit the United States, appear on our television programs and conduct workshops in our cities and towns, and explain how they are bravely changing history. For balance, we should also encourage visits by delegations from the Muslim Brotherhood (they could constitute the Egyptian Religious Conservative Institute). It would be priceless to watch Dr. Essam el-Erian, the Brotherhood leader who spent 5 years in prison for peacefully advocating democracy, politely tell Newt Gingrich how to wage a more effective political campaign.