Thursday, July 11, 2013

The state of Aljazeera

Juan Cole gives us an update on the current state of Aljazeera's journalism in Aljazeera’s Conspiracy Theory about Obama and Egypt is Brainless Mush Informed Comment 07/11/2013:

Aljazeera Arabic has long since lost a lot of its previous journalisic [sic] standards, once its head, Waddah Khanfar, was fired in favor a member of the royal family. Some 22 Egyptian journalists just resigned from Aljazeera in Cairo in protest against its Fox-News-like biases in reporting on recent events.

Aljazeera English usually still does a good job, having a different editorial line and generally good reporters, often former BBC or ABC reporters.
But he is upset about this piece from Aljazeera English: Emad Mekay, Exclusive: US bankrolled anti-Morsi activists 07/10/2013. Cole comments, "But their publication of a frankly brain dead op-ed purporting to show US support for anti-Morsi political forces is sheer conspiracy theory and very bad, unbalanced journalism."

Cole may well be right in saying, "The article isn't pro-Morsi, it is pro-Mubarak."

Still, Mekay's article is yet another reminder of why the whole concept of "democracy promotion" needs to be regarded with skepticism:

Michael Meunier is a frequent guest on TV channels that opposed Morsi. Head of the Al-Haya Party, Meunier - a dual US-Egyptian citizen - has quietly collected US funding through his NGO, Hand In Hand for Egypt Association.

Meunier's organisation was founded by some of the most vehement opposition figures, including Egypt's richest man and well-known Coptic Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, Tarek Heggy, an oil industry executive, Salah Diab, Halliburton's partner in Egypt, and Usama Ghazali Harb, a politician with roots in the Mubarak regime and a frequent US embassy contact.

Meunier has denied receiving US assistance, but government documents show USAID in 2011 granted his Cairo-based organisation $873,355. Since 2009, it has taken in $1.3 million from the US agency.

Meunier helped rally the country's five million Christian Orthodox Coptic minority, who oppose Morsi's Islamist agenda, to take to the streets against the president on June 30.
The phrase "democracy promotion" sounds pretty benign, conjuring images of school teachers giving lectures about how separation of powers works in constitutional democracies or something. When we hear about programs to promote "civil society" institutions, it sounds like organizing soup kitchens or local Lion's Clubs to donate glasses to poor people.

But when we have a foreign policy that actively targets governments for "regime change," we have to wonder just how benign the "democracy promotion" and "civil society" programs are in areas where the US regards the regimes as insufficiently democratic and/or regions that have oil resources.

Whether or not Mekay is flakking for the military, I don't dismiss these concerns out of hand:

... a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said American support for foreign political activists was in line with American principles.

"The US government provides support to civil society, democracy and human rights activists around the world, in line with our long-held values, such as respecting the fundamental human rights of free speech, peaceful assembly, and human dignity," the official wrote in an email. "US outreach in Egypt is consistent with these principles."

A Cairo court convicted 43 local and foreign NGO workers last month on charges of illegally using foreign funds to stir unrest in Egypt. The US and UN expressed concern over the move.

Some Middle East observers suggested the US' democracy push in Egypt may be more about buying influence than spreading human rights and good governance.

"Funding of politicians is a problem," said Robert Springborg, who evaluated democracy programmes for the State Department in Egypt, and is now a professor at the National Security Department of the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California.

"If you run a programme for electoral observation, or for developing media capacity for political parties, I am not against that. But providing lots of money to politicians - I think that raises lots of questions," Springborg said. [my emphasis]
After the fall of the Communist governments in the former USSR, some of the new governments actively sought public and private from the US and other countries in setting up and running new governmental institutions. Nothing inherently sinister about that from the viewpoint of the willingly recipient countries.

Or think of the Carter Center's work in monitoring elections. I don't recall hearing any complaints about the Carter Center acting as a tool of the government promoting "regime change" with those programs. Carter and the Center have undertaken diplomatic actions in coordination with the US government on issues like regime change in Haiti. But because they have established a good reputation, I would be very skeptical of any reports that the Carter Center's election monitoring or their public health programs were fronts for US-backed subversion.

But I'm not so automatically skeptical of some of the claims in Mekay's article. Because in the anything-goes approach that has characterized too much of the US War on Terrorism - and of the endless War on Drugs - NGOs that are devoted to generic activities like election monitoring, public education on democratic institutions, health care or other humanitarian activities really need to consider how any direct association with US government funding could adversely affect them.

In the triumphalism over the firefight that ended with the death of Osama bin Laden, this news wasn't given the level of attention in US politics that it deserved: Saeed Shah, CIA organised fake vaccination drive to get Osama bin Laden's family DNA Guardian 07/11/2013:

As part of extensive preparations for the raid that killed Bin Laden in May, CIA agents recruited a senior Pakistani doctor to organise the vaccine drive in Abbottabad, even starting the "project" in a poorer part of town to make it look more authentic, according to Pakistani and US officials and local residents.

The doctor, Shakil Afridi, has since been arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) for co-operating with American intelligence agents.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad, already severely strained by the Bin Laden operation, have deteriorated considerably since then. The doctor's arrest has exacerbated these tensions. The US is understood to be concerned for the doctor's safety, and is thought to have intervened on his behalf.
William McGuinness also reports in CIA Polio Vaccine Hoax Condemned By Public Health Deans Huffington Post 01/10/2013:

Public health school deans from prominent colleges and universities across the country have signed a letter condemning a hoax the Central Intelligence Agency reportedly used to obtain DNA samples from Osama bin Laden's former compound before the raid that killed him, the New York Times reports.

Signed by representatives from Columbia, Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities, as well as other public health programs, the letter claims forces hostile to the United States have now targeted vaccinators fighting to eliminate polio in the region because a CIA operation destroyed the trust established between vaccinators and Pakistanis. ...

The operation, which the CIA has acknowledged, used an existing international framework to eliminate polio; the doctor started his task in poorer districts to avoid suspicion and more closely align himself with existing operations.

After the hoax came to light following the U.S military raid resulting in the death of bin Laden in May 2011, angry villagers have run legitimate vaccinators out of town, and the Taliban has banned health workers from two districts in Pakistan until the United States agrees to end drone attacks -- a relatively ineffective ultimatum, according to World Health Organization officials who spoke with the Times. [my emphasis]
As long as the world knows that shouting "Terrorism!" will be enough to override virtually all other considerations, we can expect suspicion of US-sponsored "democracy promotion."

And the Congress out to be asking more carefully just what is actually being promoted in these programs.

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