Taking A Clear-Eyed Look at the Obama Administration’s Full Two-Year Record on Reform in Egypt

An accounting of the full two years of President Obama’s policy towards Egypt – prior to January 25, 2011 – may be in order.

As ably covered by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker – and former State Department reporter – Glenn Kessler, the Obama administration was far more quiet on the need for Egypt to engage in serious political reform, at least publicly, than the Bush administration.

Perhaps more glaringly, while the Bush administration tried to directly fund civil society in Egypt – pro-democracy groups and the like – the Obama administration changed that policy and cut funding significantly, ending an effort to provide direct funding to democracy groups not “approved” by the Egyptian government, and reduced funding in the budget for programs to promote civil society groups.

As Kessler writes: Bush’s final budget “proposed spending $45 million on democracy and good-governance programs in Egypt, including more than $20 million on promoting civil society…But that nascent effort was largely shelved when the Obama administration took office. For fiscal year 2009, the administration immediately halved the money for democracy promotion in Egypt; the civil society funds were slashed 70 percent, to $7 million. Meanwhile, money that was to be given directly to civil society groups was eliminated and the administration agreed to once again fund only those institutions that had Mubarak's seal of approval.”

Freedom House in 2009 wrote that the Obama Administration “should reassess this reduction in support and strengthen its diplomatic efforts on behalf of independent democracy and human rights activists in this important country."

In 2010, Freedom House wrote : "We have serious concerns about the US Government decision to stop funding civil society groups not registered with the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, essentially giving the Egyptian Government veto power over who receives funding from USAID. Not only is this decision harmful to civil society groups in Egypt, it sets a dangerous precedent in terms of U.S. foreign assistance."

President Obama has in the last month been speaking quite loudly about the need for reform in Egypt – and former senior adviser David Axelrod told us that the president privately has been confronting Mubarak on the need for reform.

But Kessler notes that the first public, direct call for reform in Egypt by President Obama came on January 28, 2011, after President Mubarak announced he was dissolving his Cabinet following mass demonstrations in the streets of Cairo.

“No matter what was said in private, or how forcefully, the public message sent by the Obama administration over the past two years was that democracy and human rights in Egypt was not a top priority,” Kessler writes. “When given the opportunity to use the biggest megaphone in the world--the voice of the president of the United States--the words were whispered, if said at all.”

-Jake Tapper

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