“American Funding Aims to Spread Anarchy in Egypt.” That was the headline in one of Egypt’s state-owned papers, al-Ahram, Tuesday. Similar headlines dominated the other papers.
The papers cited comments by Egyptian cabinet minister, Fayza Abul Naga, stating that the US was trying to “abort any chance for Egypt to emerge as a modern democratic state.” She suggested America was acting in Israel’s interest.
Abul Naga is overseeing the investigation of American funding of civil society groups in Egypt. Nineteen Americans have been barred from leaving the country, until the investigation is complete. Some of the suspects have taken shelter in the US embassy. Congress is threatening to cut US aid to Egypt in retaliation.
But according to David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times, Abul Naga is acting in defiance of Egypt’s ruling military council. Kirkpatrick tells Anchor Marco Werman that she ignored warnings from Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the military council, to tone it down, “coming out with both barrels.” Her comments are proving extremely popular with the public, perhaps laying the foundation for her political career.
Kirkpatrick says her defiance calls into question “just how much control the ruling generals have over their own government at the moment.”
Despite all the political shenanigans, Kirkpatrick says the crisis in relations between Cairo and Washington is “very serious,” and could lead to “a real rupture in that 30-year old alliance which has been a lynchpin of Mid-East peace.”
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Marco Werman: I am Marco Werman. This is The World. The United States and Egypt were close allies before the revolution there and, in theory, they still are; but you wouldn’t know it from the headlines in Egypt this week. State-run newspapers have been running stories about a U.S. plot to prevent Egypt from developing as a democratic state. The stories are based on statements made by an Egyptian cabinet minister; statements related to the ongoing investigation of allegedly illegal American funding of Egyptian civil society groups. An article in today’s New York Times focuses on Fayza Abul Naga, the cabinet minister behind those headlines. It’s written by David Kirkpatrick of the Times. He’s in Cairo. So tell us David, first of all, who is Fayza Abul Naga and does she speak for the current government of Egypt?
David Kirkpatrick: Well, she certainly speaks for the former government of Egypt. She is one of the few holdovers, high level holdovers from the Mubarak regime still in power. For a while it seemed like she was acting at the behest of the military rulers, the council of generals now running Egypt. From time to time they would offer public hints that this investigation she was overseeing into the illicit funding of non-profits would reveal the hidden hands behind street protests and so on, but now things have gotten a little bit out of hand from the perspective of the generals. At this point it now appears that Fayza Abul Naga is acting on her own, calling into question just how much control the ruling generals have over their own government at the moment.
Werman: If she’s really in defiance of the military council, is there evidence that she’s plotting her own course here?
Kirkpatrick: Well, this weekend Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, ostensibly the chief executive of the state right now, met with the cabinet including Ms. Abul Naga and said, “Let’s moderate our tone” and issued a public statement saying now was the time for strengthening the relationship with the U.S., this after he had just met with a top U.S. general. The next day, she unloaded with both barrels. She did nothing of the kind. She warned that U.S. pressure could force Egypt into the arms of Iran. Then, there were these leaks in the state media going a step further and for the first time accusing these American groups of actively plotting to subvert the revolution, to turn it to the advantage of the U.S. and Israel and to stop Egypt from becoming a strong and flourishing democracy. She is outlining a series of accusations which are well known to be extremely resonating with the Egyptian public. She is talking about U.S. conspiracies to help Israel to subordinate Egypt and keep it in a subservient client position. This stuff really strikes a chord with the Egyptian public and has got people quite fired up. In fact, it’s made her very popular; some would say untouchable.
Werman: Given all these internal political shenanigans David, how serious is this crisis in relations between the U.S. and Egypt? Where does it all seem headed to you?
Kirkpatrick: Well, it very serious. It’s very serious because both countries now have democratically elected parliaments, legislatures, and anything could happen. The U.S. Congress is quite agitated over this and very seriously threatening to revoke the annual aid to Egypt which would be a real rupture in that 30-year old alliance which has been a lynchpin of Mid-East peace. On the other side, all these allegations are really firing up the Egyptian people and with them the Egyptian parliament. Those people say, quite credibly, “Look, all we’re asking is for the U.S. government to obey our laws.” Maybe the Americans thought this law governing civil society groups was going to go away but it hadn’t yet and so the U.S. is in the wrong. So both sides are fired up and angry and have something to stand on. I’m told from U.S. diplomats that at the moment this is really pre-occupying American diplomacy and American relations with Egypt at a very pivotal time; at a time when Egypt is about to form the institutions that will guide its future for many years to come.
Werman: David Kirkpatrick, New York Times bureau chief in Cairo, thank you so much.
Kirkpatrick: You’re welcome anytime.
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