Former Freedom House Official: Until Recently, Obama Administration Put Egypt’s Pro-Democracy Movement at Arm’s Length

Feb 11, 2011 6:14pm

“The Obama Administration has not done what they should have in terms of support for civil society,” said Jennifer Windsor, associate dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who served for ten years as the executive director of Freedom House, an independent group dedicated to the advance of freedom.

Windsor tells ABC News that the administration gave roughly “7  million dollars of assistance to civil society, but they made a decision that that assistance would only go to those groups that were approved by the Egyptian government” – contrary to the policy of the Bush administration. “For several years, assistance was going to independent as well as to registered groups, and this policy was changed unfortunately.”

As we discussed earlier today, President Bush in his final budget proposed  spending $45 million Egyptian pro-democracy and civil society programs in Egypt.

 As covered at length by the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, for fiscal year 2009, the Obama administration “immediately halved the money for democracy promotion in Egypt; the civil society funds were slashed 70 percent, to $7 million.”

Says Windsor: “The attitude of Obama administration toward the pro-democracy movement was to put them at arm’s length, and make sure that US interaction with the pro-democracy movement did not in any way ruffle the feathers of a dictatorial regime.”

It was part of a different approach President Obama took to US-Egypt relations, which had deteriorated under Bush in part because of his administration’s push for Egypt to begin the process of reform.

ABC News asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today if the Obama administration regretted cutting funding for civil society groups and changing the policy so as to only fund organizations approved by President Hosni Mubarak.

Gibbs said no.

“I think our commitment to the universal principles that the president has talked about throughout  this process — and in countries not just in Egypt and not just in the  region, but around the world — I think are best exemplified by what  he said standing in Cairo, saying many of the things you've heard him say over the past several days,” Gibbs said. “Obviously, we are watching the situation and will, as I think members have testified just in the last day or so up on Capitol Hill, tailor our assistance to a changing situation.”

From 1991-2000, Windsor worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID,) last serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator and Director of the Center for Democracy and Governance. From 1986-1989, she worked on foreign affairs for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-NY, and then for Rep. Ted Weiss, D-NY.

-Jake Tapper

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