• June 2, 2009

Carpenter and Wittes: Cook Wrong on Democracy Funding in Egypt

Carpenter and Wittes: Cook Wrong on Democracy Funding in Egypt

Writing on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Scott Carpenter and Tamara Cofman Wittes take umbrage at Steven Cook’s suggestion that democracy and good governance programs in Egypt are not worthwhile.

Carpenter expresses disappointment with the casual manner in which Secretary Clinton has addressed democracy and human rights, equating these issues with economic development.  He also asserts that Cook incorrectly assumes that limited  headway  under President Bush indicates that future democratization programs are likewise doomed to be ineffective. Rather, the amount of money spent on democracy promotion was such a small part of total U.S. aid to Egypt, that its limited success should be unsurprising.

A return to the status quo, Carpenter rebuts, by “eliminating core democracy programs, [and] toning down rhetoric to the point that it is seen as a green light to regimes to repress their people” will guarantee that we lose some as well. Instead, “the Obama administration would be wise to consider many of [the] sensible recommendations” in POMED’s recent report on democracy in Egypt.

Democracy advocates should not lose hope over Clinton’s remarks, Wittes replies. Rather, “Clinton’s talk with the democracy activists sent a message that the issue of democratization is by no means off the table” provided that it is followed up by high level meetings with civil society activists during Obama’s upcoming Cairo trip. Furthermore, Wittes disputes Cook’s contention that “there is a zero-sum relationship between democracy aid and development aid, that democracy aid only alienates the Cairo government, and that more spending on basic development would mend fences and open the way to progress on reform.”

Crunching the numbers, Wittes shows that democracy spending was not the culprit behind cuts to human development; rather total economic aid to Egypt had steadily declined from $815 million in 1998 to $412 million in 2008 of its own accord. Wittes likewise demonstrates Cook’s assertion that democracy and governance aid increased by 133 percent to be incorrect.

Cook has already responded to Carpenter’s piece, asserting that his critics underestimate the interlocking formal and informal institutions that maintain the Egyptian status quo. Mubarak’s regime is strong and supple, able to repress and deflect most challenges and pressures for reform. When it comes to democracy and governance programs, the U.S. is “throwing good money after bad.” Cook has yet to respond to Wittes’ critiques.

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