The shadowy world of Egypt's NGOs

Funded by their governments, are these organisations funnelling money to protest movements?

Ever since the Egyptian authorities raided the offices of a number of Western "non-profit organisations" in December, there has been consternation in the Western press. The 43 people accused of failing to register with the government and of financing the 6 April protest movement with illicit funds have been referred to repeatedly in the Western press as 'NGO' workers. This has served successfully to deflect the media from examining whether in fact there was some basis to Egypt's claims that these people had been acting illegally.

As regards the accused organisations in Egypt, "NGO" might seem a strange term given that four of the five accused organisations receive the majority of their funding directly or indirectly from "their" governments. The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung is a German non-profit that receives 90 per cent of its funding from the German government. The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) are two of the four core institutions of the grant-making institution the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

NED was created as an act of Congress and receives more than 90 per cent of its budget from the US government. Freedom House, while not one of its core institutions, also regularly receives the majority of its funding from NED. Chaired by Richard Gephardt - former Democratic Representative, now CEO of his own corporate consultancy and lobbying firm - the NED's Board of Directors consists of a collection of corporate lobbyists, advisors and consultants, former U.S congressmen, senators, ambassadors and military staff, as well as senior fellows of highly political "think tanks".

NED and its affiliates (particularly IRI) have been implicated in funding groups involved in organising coups against democratically elected leaders such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela (2002), Jean-Betrand Aristide of Haiti (2004) and Manuel Zelaya of Honduras (2009). NED massively funded the political opposition to democratically elected Nobel Peace Price winner President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica (1986-1988) and, during the 1980s, NED poured funding into the cause of 'defending democracy' in France against her elected government, under Francois Mitterrand, which it regarded as dangerously socialist. As Barbara Conry of the right leaning Cato Institute once wrote: "Through the Endowment, the American taxpayer has paid for special-interest groups to harass the duly elected governments of friendly countries, interfere in foreign elections, and foster the corruption of democratic movements."

On 14 April 2011, the New York Times published an article entitled "U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings" in which it stated that: "A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the IRI, the NDI and Freedom House".

One need only look at NED's official website to see that it is pushing a right-wing agenda in Egypt, with nearly half of the $2,497,457 allocated to Egypt in 2010 going to the Center for International Private Enterprise for actions such as strengthening civil society's "capacity to advocate for free market legislative reform" and other large grants awarded to youth organisations for training and mobilising activists in the use of new and social media.

But this is just the funding that is openly boasted of and the Egyptian authorities are finding it difficult, apparently, to trace the organisation's funding. Dawlat Eissa - a 27-year-old Egyptian-American and former IRI employee - claimed that that the IRI was using employee's private bank accounts to channel funding into IRI covertly from Washington.

A leaked Cairo US embassy cable from 2008, entitled "April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt", revealed how the US were in dialogue with one April 6 youth activist about his attendance at the 2008 Alliance of Youth Movements Summit in Washington. The cable also detailed the youth movement's goal to remove Mubarak from power before 2011. The activist called Mubarak "the head of the snake" saying that it must be removed before democracy could take root.

While the Embassy, deemed this plan "highly unrealistic", the dialogue shows that from as early as December 2008 Washington was fully aware of the movement's aim to remove the Mubarak regime from power. Critics claim that the defendants in the 'NGO' trial are being charged with a law that is a "relic of the Mubarak era". But in what country does the law tolerate foreign governments funding and training opposition group activists aiming for regime change? The US?

The term 'NGO' is used deliberately to create an illusion of innocent philanthropic activity. In this case the Egyptian government is investigating the operations of US state funded organisations which have a proven history of covertly funding political parties, influencing elections and aiding coups. Yet one mention of the Egyptian government's raid on the offices of so-called 'pro-democracy NGOs' in Cairo was enough to spark an international outcry. There was an almost complete failure by the Western press to highlight at all the history of the organisations involved or the potential validity of the charges being brought against them.

Jenny O'Connor is a graduate of International Relations and Communications Volunteer at the European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era