Amid a US campaign to support democratic transition in Egypt, a
state-run magazine derided the US 'ambassador from hell' and
officials are investigating groups who accepted funding.
The Egyptian government's hostile response to a US initiative to
fund pro-democracy groups has strained America's relations with its
biggest Arab ally during a critical transitional period for Egypt.
The tension has been building since March, when the US announced
plans to distribute $65 million in grants directly to pro-democracy
groups. But the angry and wide-ranging response from the Egyptian
government and military, which has gone beyond typical Egyptian
criticism of American foreign policy, has raised concern in
Washington and underscored the challenge the US faces in navigating
its relationship with a newly independent Egypt.
"During the Mubarak years, [officials] used anti-American
rhetoric for public consumption all the time, and it had no real
carryover into the private relationship," says Michael Wahid Hanna,
a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation who just returned
from a trip to Egypt. "But I do think this is significant and
different and presents a challenge to how the US can operate in the
region in terms of bilateral relations. ... There's real tension,
and there's no easy fix for it."
The Egypt director of USAID, the US development agency that has
been at the center of the storm here, left Egypt Thursday after less
than a year on the job. But Lars Anderson, the agency's spokesman in
Washington, said his departure was not related to anti-American
sentiment and was for "purely internal reasons."
Top US diplomat portrayed as 'ambassador from hell'
When USAID first publicized plans to distribute the democracy
grants, it invited US and Egyptian civil society organizations to
apply. USAID held information sessions in Alexandria and Luxor as
well as Cairo, providing information on how to apply for grants that
would focus on areas like civic awareness and engagement, access to
justice, and capacity building for political parties ahead of what
are expected to be Egypt's first free elections. In the Egyptian
capital, a line of people waiting to get into the session stretched
down the block.
Egyptian officials reacted with anger, saying that giving money
directly to unregistered civil society organizations, bypassing the
Egyptian government, was an affront to national sovereignty. A
string of articles in state-run and independent newspapers denounced
the foreign funding.
Soon the hostility had widened, with the generals currently in
charge of Egypt whipping up xenophobic sentiment and accusing
Egyptian activist groups of receiving foreign funding, inciting
strife, and harming the nation. The Ministry of International
Cooperation, led by Mubarak holdover Fayza Aboulnaga, announced it
would investigate the aid recipients, and a judicial official said
this week the probe had begun this week. (The ministry said Ms.
Aboulnaga was not available to comment this week.)
By the end of July, as the incoming US Ambassador Anne Patterson
arrived in Egypt to assume her new post, the cover of a state-run
magazine depicted her using a wad of American dollars to light an
American bomb in Egypt's iconic Tahrir Square. "The ambassador from
hell lights a fire in Tahrir," read the caption.
The US responded publicly to the growing anti-American sentiment
this week, saying the personal attacks against Ambassador Patterson
were "unacceptable" and it has raised the issue with Egyptian
"With regard to this kind of anti-Americanism that's creeping
into the Egyptian public discourse, we are concerned," said State
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland at a press conference in
Washington. "We think this kind of representation of the United
States is not only inaccurate; it's unfair. We are very strong
supporters of Egypt's transition to a democratic future, and we will
continue to be there for Egypt. …