The line between NGO and Government

Good point by Robert Merry regarding American Government-funded NGOs working to “spread democracy” throughout the world:

Commentary: Unmasking the Democracy Promoters | The National Interest.

The Times reports that the United Arab Emirates has shut down the offices of the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit U.S. agency whose mission is to promote democracy around the globe. The NDI is often called an NGO, short for nongovernmental organization, which might leave some people a bit quizzical given that this particular NGO is funded to a significant extent by the U.S. government. But Wikipedia helpfully explains: “In cases in which NGOs are funded totally or partially by governments, the NGO maintains its non-governmental status by excluding governmental representatives from membership in the organization.”

… For anyone trying to understand why this anger is welling up in those countries, it might be helpful to contemplate how Americans would feel if similar organizations from China or Russia or India were to pop up in Washington, with hundreds of millions of dollars given to them by those governments, bent on influencing our politics. One supposes it would generate substantial anger among Americans if these groups tried to tilt our elections toward one party or another. But suppose they were trying to upend our very system of government, as U.S.-financed NGOs are trying to do these days in various countries—and have done in recent years in numerous locations.

Well… that actually does happen — hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by foreign governments on lobbying the US government every year — but that’s beside the point.

This is a problem that Israel is also dealing with — foreign governments fund organisations that operate within the country and have the express goal of bringing-down the current system. This is not to say that I disagree at all with what the organisations in Egypt are doing (I disagree completely with the ones in Israel), but if they are funded by the US government, the argument that they do not answer to the government directly does not hold much weight.

Whether or not the government actually has a representative on the board is not particularly important. Any organisation is beholden to its funders. The organisations in Egypt are in a position where they can only operate because of the US government and therefore the US government can shut them if it so chooses. That means that they pretty much have to do what the government tells them, it also means that the government is effectively sending them to Egypt. It is understandable, then, that the Egyptian authorities would be a little upset that the organisations are actively working against them.

Again, I completely support trying to bring democracy to Egypt, I just don’t like this “secret” diplomacy. It’s like the US give a wink and a smile to the Egyptians and say “don’t worry, we’re still friends, they aren’t really acting on our behalf. We’re just paying them to be there, that’s all.” It’s not fooling anyone.

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