Blaming unspecified foreign elements has been a strategy employed almost universally by Arab regimes facing domestic uprisings in a bid to divert attention away from their own blood stained hands. Egypt’s current incarnation, composed of military and political remnants, has embarked upon an unashamedly hypocritical witch-hunt of foreigners, all the while Egypt’s military remains second only to Israel in receiving the largest amount of US aid.These fictitious foreign forces are, predictably, ‘invisible hands’ which conveniently only regime members are apparently capable of seeing.
The original xenophobic state narrative accused the unquestionably domestic protest movement of having a foreign agenda. Amongst the victims of this first witch-hunt were 3 unwitting American students, evidence supposedly condemning a movement of hundreds of thousands, if not millions as foreign influence. The physical attack and rape of numerous female foreign correspondents in Tahrir Square was a disturbing consequence of an increasingly fervent strain of xenophobia stoked and incited by state propaganda in an attempt to turn Egyptians against the protesters and their cause.
Now the regime has accelerated their rhetoric into a practice arguably not seen even under the Mubarak regime. What began as a scaremongering propaganda campaign has culminated in the arrest and trial of both Egyptian and American NGO workers on grounds of meddling in Egypt’s domestic politics. Setting aside the fact that organisations such as Freedom House have promoted democratic development in Egypt unhindered for decades, the importing of tear gas and military equipment used to crush protests is suitably ignored.
One of the charges against these NGO’s is that they are not properly registered or licensed to operate in Egypt. However anyone familiar with the process of registration for foreign funded NGO’s would know that there is a stifling and ridiculous level of bureaucracy involved which is not difficult to imagine was by design. Whether or not they are guilty of this charge is irrelevant in the context of an illegitimate regime undeniably responsible for many deaths and injuries, mass unrest and outbreaks of chaos, yet consumed by a minor question of administrative technicality.
The motives behind this public witch-hunt are twofold. Primarily it has served to deflect attention away from the ongoing crimes of the regime and its attempts to remain standing against the tide of change. To this end, state propaganda has conjured these invisible, yet decidedly foreign hands as instigators of the chaos. Tragedies such as the Port Said massacre are thus portrayed as beyond the control of the ruling regime because of the unknown foreign elements, despite all the evidence pointing to a deliberate state conspiracy. Are we to believe it was the same invisible hands which welded shut the stadium gates and ordered security forces to stand by as chaos ensued ?. Nevertheless I was frequently assured by many Egyptians that the NGO for which I worked was funded by the US government (which it was not), as if this settled the debate over who was responsible for the state of chaos in the country. By no means do I wish to say that all Egyptians buy into this false propaganda, but for those who remain apprehensive about the aims of the protests, some will undoubtedly opt for the more comforting belief that foreigners, rather than Egyptians are responsible for the countries numerous tragedies.
The farcical trial of NGO workers has also served another more specific purpose for the regime. As well as seeking to confirm their claims of foreign meddling in domestic affairs, it is using this agenda to try and assert its authority in the relationship with its American benefactors. For the US, the aid serves the purpose of maintaining an ally in Egypt which is at best willing to stay quiet on Israel and remain open to the working relationship. The current regime, seeking to take advantage of the heightened weariness of foreign elements, forced US diplomats to the table in something of a staged drama to portray themselves as defenders of Egyptian sovereignty. The tragic irony of this drama is that it was only the accused Egyptians who were present and caged at the trial, unfortunate pawns in the political games of this illegitimate, oppressive regime.