In Egypt, the policies of 'stability' breed chaos
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When it comes to Egypt, "stability" has always been the U.S. government's watchword. For this reason, when a military coup removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power three year ago, many hoped that the new government — for all its flaws — would at least avert the tide of extremism.


Yet the Sisi government's intensifying crackdown on civil society in the name of stability is, in reality, a step in the opposite direction. In the long term, it will likely increase instability and tension, stifle constructive dissent and drive the desperately disaffected into the shadows — or worse yet, into extremism. It's not hard to see parallels in today's conditions to the sweeping sense of marginalization and alienation that fueled mass protests in 2011.

Terrorist attacks are on the rise across Egypt, and the government's response has been heavy-handed and often indiscriminate. Given the complex challenges the Sisi government faces, it might be tempting to rationalize some of its practices as merely motivated by the exigencies of national security, with the belief that this could "buy time" for later democratic reforms. Unfortunately, the government's actions and rhetoric offer not a single morsel of evidence to support that hopeful notion.

Instead of perceiving Egypt's once-vibrant civil society as an ally in building a secure future, the Egyptian government has steadily narrowed its operating space. To name just a few examples, a 2013 anti-protest law significantly curtails Egyptians' ability to participate in peaceful public meetings and assembly, while a recent amendment to Egypt's penal code criminalizes organizations that receive foreign funding.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has characterized his crackdown on dissent as a justified response to "fourth-generation" warfare — implying that media and civil society organizations conspire against the government by undermining people's trust in their leaders. In other words, any opinions that differ from the government narrative are an attack on the Egyptian state.

I wish I could dismiss this as overblown political discourse. Yet as the president of the International Republican Institute (IRI), one of the international organizations targeted in the "foreign funding trial" of 2013, I am acutely aware of the reality behind the rhetoric.

Forty-three staff members from IRI, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists and the Konrad Adenaur Foundation were convicted on spurious charges aimed at expelling international organizations from Egypt. Many of these individuals were tried in absentia and given lengthy prison sentences, simply for doing their jobs. Instead of working to resolve this blight on the U.S-Egypt bilateral relationship, reports suggest that Egypt is widening the "foreign funding" trials.

Egypt's refusal to permit U.S. assistance in a range of development sectors has caused a backlog of funds in the hundreds of millions. In the current budget environment, where resources are constrained, a large portion of these funds can clearly be better utilized elsewhere — for example, in Tunisia, where significant democratic strides are being made and deserve additional support.

This is not to say that the U.S. should abandon support for democracy assistance in Egypt; we should support independent Egyptian voices wherever possible. But funding committed that cannot be utilized should clearly not go to waste when so many others could make use of it.

It is the Egyptian people, living in a society of laws and respect for individual rights, who are the best guarantor of stability. Sadly, the Sisi government seems unwilling to recognize this simple truth.

This piece was based on Ambassador Green's June 15, 2016 testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

Green is the president of the International Republican Institute (IRI).