Arab “democracy” activists helped by US government

This is both unsurprising and worrying. The idea that the US, which backs the vast majority of repressive states globally, is also supposedly helping a few dissidents to organise (and embrace market capitalism?) is the epitome of hypocrisy, also known as American foreign policy:

Even as the United States poured billions of dollars into foreign military programs and anti-terrorism campaigns, a small core of American government-financed organizations were promoting democracy in authoritarian Arab states.

The money spent on these programs was minute compared with efforts led by the Pentagon. But as American officials and others look back at the uprisings of the Arab Spring, they are seeing that the United States’ democracy-building campaigns played a bigger role in fomenting protests than was previously known, with key leaders of the movements having been trained by the Americans in campaigning, organizing through new media tools and monitoring elections.

A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington, according to interviews in recent weeks and American diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks.

The work of these groups often provoked tensions between the United States and many Middle Eastern leaders, who frequently complained that their leadership was being undermined, according to the cables.

The Republican and Democratic institutes are loosely affiliated with the Republican and Democratic Parties. They were created by Congress and are financed through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was set up in 1983 to channel grants for promoting democracy in developing nations. The National Endowment receives about $100 million annually from Congress. Freedom House also gets the bulk of its money from the American government, mainly from the State Department.

No one doubts that the Arab uprisings are home grown, rather than resulting from “foreign influence,” as alleged by some Middle Eastern leaders.

“We didn’t fund them to start protests, but we did help support their development of skills and networking,” said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, a Washington-based advocacy and research group. “That training did play a role in what ultimately happened, but it was their revolution. We didn’t start it.”