Its transitional government is fighting imaginary Western predators,instead of looking to a better future
Thomas L. Friedman
Sadly,the transitional government in Egypt today appears determined to shoot itself in both feet. On Sunday,it will put on trial 43 people,including at least 16 US citizens,for allegedly bringing unregistered funds into Egypt to promote democracy without a licence. Egypt has every right to control international organisations operating within its borders. But the truth is that when these democracy groups filed their registration papers years ago under the autocracy of Hosni Mubarak,they were informed that the papers were in order and that approval was pending. The fact that now after Mubarak has been deposed by a revolution these groups are being threatened with jail terms for promoting democracy without a licence is a very disturbing sign. It tells you how incomplete the revolution in Egypt has been and how vigorously the counter-revolutionary forces are fighting back.
This sordid business makes one weep and wonder how Egypt will ever turn the corner. Egypt is running out of foreign reserves,its currency is falling,inflation is rising and unemployment is rampant. Yet the priority of a few retrograde Mubarak holdovers is to put on trial staffers from the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute,which are allied with the two main US political parties,as well as from Freedom House and some European groups. Their crime was trying to teach Egypts young democrats how to monitor elections and start parties to engage in the very democratic processes that the Egyptian army set up after Mubaraks fall. Thousands of Egyptians participated in their seminars in recent years.
What is this really about? This case has been trumped up by Egypts minister of planning and international cooperation,Fayza Abul Naga,an old Mubarak crony. Abul Naga personifies the worst tendency in Egypt over the last 50 years the tendency that helps to explain why Egypt has fallen so far behind its peers: South Korea,Taiwan,Malaysia,Brazil,India and China. It is the tendency to look for dignity in all the wrong places to look for dignity not by building up the capacity of Egypts talented young people so they can thrive in the 21st century with better schools,better institutions,export industries and more accountable government. No,it is the tendency to go for dignity on the cheap by standing up to the foreigners. That is Abul Nagas game.
What Abul Naga is saying to all those young Egyptians who marched,protested and died in Tahrir Square is: You were just the instruments of the CIA,the US Congress,Israel and the Jewish lobby. They are the real forces behind the Egyptian revolution not brave Egyptians with a will of their own.
Not surprisingly,some members of the US Congress are talking about cutting off the $1.3 billion in aid the US gives Egypts army if these Americans are actually thrown in prison. Hold off on that. We have to be patient and see this for what,one hopes,it really is: Fayzas last dance. It is elements of the old regime playing the last cards they have to both undermine the true democratic forces in Egypt and to save themselves by posing as protectors of Egypts honour.
Egyptians deserve better than this crowd,which is squandering Egypts dwindling resources at a critical time and diverting attention from the real challenge facing the country: giving Egypts young people what they so clearly hunger for a real voice in their own future and the educational tools they need to succeed in the modern world. Thats where lasting dignity comes from.