The outrage over Egypt's arrest of 43 NGO workers, at least 16 of whom are American, is understandable and well deserved. But it also speaks to a little acknowledged paradox: These organizations are conducting democracy-building work that would never be tolerated in the US.
Mohammed Asad/AP Photo
The past few months have not been kind to foreign nationals looking to promote democracy in Egypt. Despite the Arab Spring, post-Mubarak authorities have been slow to embrace the onslaught of aid that invariably follows “democratic” revolution.
In fact, they have been outright hostile. Earlier this month, 43 aid workers (including at least 16 Americans) were reportedly charged with channeling funds to Egyptian nonprofit groups – an act that, while technically illegal, was tacitly condoned under the Mubarak government. At the center of the political storm are the American “party institutes” – the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI).
The outrage from these organizations, the US, and Europe is understandable and well deserved. But it also speaks to a little acknowledged paradox: For all their good intentions, these organizations are conducting work that would never be tolerated in the US and Western Europe. Foreign support for political parties and electoral campaigns would enrage millions of Americans.
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