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Egypt and Russia Against Democracy Promotion

February 6, 2012

I’ve raised the question before of how countries try to limit the impact of what they perceive as unwelcome PD activities so I just that I’d connect two recent stories.

Firstly, the announcement by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in in Egypt that they will prevent a number of foreigners from leaving the country while they are investigated for interfering in the electoral process through the work of foreign funded NGOs.   In particular the case of Sam Lahood the head of the Egyptian office of the International Republican Institute has attracted attention.   The IRI gets funding from the US congress via the National Endowment for Democracy which originated with Ronald Reagan’s  Project Democracy.  The Egyptian regime sees foreign funded NGOs as a threat is making an effort to restrict their activities.  Given that the NGOs have been operating in a legal limbo they have plenty of scope to do so.

Secondly, there’s the ‘warm‘ welcome the new US Ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul received.  On his second day in the job state television accused him of wanting to foment revolution in Russia and suggested that opposition figures who were visiting the embassy were there to receive instructions.  McFaul is reported as saying that the previous day he had had a warm welcome from Russian officials.  Thus it looks like the media reaction was directed at the public diplomacy element of the job.

In both cases it is the US commitment to democracy promotion activities that drives an element of conflict with the regime.  In the Egyptian case legal harassment is the tool and in Russia the state controlled media becomes a weapon to try and delegitimize foreign PD activities.

There is a broader question of how states manage foreign PD.   The US has the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) passed in 1938 it was intended to regulate the operations of foreign propaganda offices as the Second World War approached.

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