Egypt's Generals Play the Old Trick: The Ticker

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By Lisa Beyer

When Egyptian officials on Dec. 29 stormed the offices of 17 organizations working to promote democracy in the country, closing some of them, state media said the raids were part of an investigation into foreign financing of the groups. That's quite a statement coming from a government that receives billions a year in foreign financing -- including $1.3 billion in military assistance from the U.S.

Apart from the obvious hypocrisy, the claim was an old authoritarian trick. Repressive regimes are forever accusing civil-society groups of being tools of foreigners, the "hidden hands," in this case, that Egyptian generals warn are subverting the country.

Civic groups would no doubt raise funds locally if they could. But in fledgling democracies, citizens don't often donate to such causes (in part because regimes have a tendency to raid their offices and peruse their donor lists). But money isn't all these groups need. Like-minded organizations from mature democracies also provide training, exposure to best practices and access to colleagues and mentors in countries with relevant experiences.

Russia provided a recent example of the benefits of such collaboration. Local, rather than international, monitors produced proof of widespread fraud in Russia's Dec. 4 parliamentary elections, which made the charges of irregularities more credible domestically. One of Russia's main monitoring groups, Golos, is partially funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and receives technical assistance from the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. group that promotes democracy abroad. This week, NDI's Egyptian offices were shuttered by the authorities. Golos, meanwhile, is under fire from the Russian government -- for being a U.S. puppet.

(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

-0- Jan/03/2012 16:58 GMT