Friday, March 2, 2012

More on the Nonprofit Trials in Egypt

Sorry for harping on this topic, but the rich irony delights me.  As discussed in yesterday's post, employees of several Western-financed NGOs, including several Americans, were charged with criminal offenses and banned from leaving Egypt as a result of their Rule of Law work.  Now, further details have emerged about how Egypt has avoided losing billions of dollars in American and IMF support.

The New York Times reports that the NGOs paid approximately $4 million in bail to the Egyptian government, which permitted eleven remaining NGO employees (including six Americans) to fly home on a chartered jet.  More interesting, the deal appears to have been brokered by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that not long ago was portrayed by the West as a bogeyman and the enemy of democratic reform. Now the Brotherhood publicly embraces the notion that independent NGOs play an important role in society and it maintains that NGOs were partly responsible for exposing the atrocities of the former government.  Senator John McCain, usually a harsh critic of the Brotherhood, publicly thanked them for their role in resolving this crisis.

Meanwhile, anger and criticism mounts within Egyptian society for permitting this "political interference in the judicial process," which clearly it is.  The Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrating that it  has already mastered advanced techniques of political tussling within a democratic political system, has has called for an investigation into how all of this happened and who let the Americans go.  It's the well known "send it to a committee" dodge.

American officials have stated privately that it is "unthinkable" that the American defendants will actually return, though one American employee of the National Democratic Institute has voluntarily chosen to remain and stand trial.

So, is the Muslim Brotherhood good or bad, and is it acceptable or not to subvert Rule of Law (at least in certain circumstances) while promoting it?


March 2, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Egypt Relents

I am in the midst of teaching a seminar on International Law and Development and my students and I have spent a fair bit of time talking about American-funded  "Rule of Law" and "Democracy and Governance" projects (known in the aid biz as "ROL" and "D&G" programs) in Africa.

For this reason, I have been following with particular attention the "nonprofit trials" going on in Cairo.  For those who have not been reading the papers lately, I will summarize: a bunch of Americans who work for democracy-building NGOs such as the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House, were charged by Egyptian authorities with violating various laws that govern and restrict NGOs in that country.  In addition to the formal charges, there were dark whisperings emanating from various elements within the Egyptian government and society that these Americans -- possibly in cahoots with the CIA -- were bent on destabilizing Egypt as part of a neo-imperialist project.  Several of the American NGO workers slipped out of the country before things got hot,  but others, including the son of the current American Secretary of Transportation, felt compelled to seek refuge at the American embassy in Cairo.  The NGO folks who remained in Egypt were barred from leaving the country.

The running debate in the media has focused on how the Egyptians were going to back their way out of the problem, since the American government made it clear that the Egyptians would not receive their annual $1.3 billion aid package from the U.S. if they didn't leave the American NGO folks alone.  The Egyptians' initial response, quite clever and maybe even truthful, was that there was nothing they could do because legitimate legal authorities had lodged the accusations, and that the new Egypt is committed to rule of law -- exactly what those NGOs were supposed to be teaching the Egyptians!

Yesterday, according to the New York Times, the parties found a way out of the crisis, or at least the beginnings of a way out.  The presiding trial judges recused themselves and higher ranking judges took over.  They in turn rescinded the travel bans on the American NGO workers, though the charges have not been dropped and the accused will have to promise to return for trial.  Don't hold your breath waiting for that.

What do we learn from all of this?  Implanting western notions regarding rule of law, democracy and governance, and civil society in non-western societies is a tricky and complicated business.


March 1, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Troubles with For-Profit Microfinance

Social Enterprise enthusiasts sometimespoint to Muhammad Yunus' founding of the Grameen Bank as the start of the movement, or at least as an important catalyst.  Micro-loans were seen as a means of harnessing market forces to make sustainable improvements in the lives of the very poor.  Because micro-loans, if administered correctly, could not only produce socially beneficial outcomes but turn a profit, it should not have been surprising that for-profit actors moved into that territory.  (And this should not have been particularly controversial among Social Enterprise aficionados, who tend to be comfortable blurring the lines between sectors.) One of the most promintent (and controversial) for-profit actorswas SKS Microfinance. 

Now the New York Times reports that the founder of SKS, Vikram Akula, is admitting that there are serious problems with the for-profit approach to micro-lending.  One of those problems is that in order to turn a tidy profit the companies must be extremely aggressive about collecting loan payments, and that an uncomfortably large number of borrowers in India committed suicide when they could not make their payments.

February 29, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Finally, Lady Gaga Enters Our Realm

I don't watch a lot of television -- and I'm old -- so I don't know much about Lady Gaga other than that she sings and that she's known for having worn a "meat dress" during a performance.  But I do know that she's very, very famous, and that the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that she is in the process of forming a foundation, the Born This Way Foundation, that will focus on fighting bullying and inspiring bravery among young people. 

What's more interesting is the fact that her philanthropic venture is being backed by the MacArthur Foundation and the California Endowment.  I am from the east coast and so I do not know much about the latter, but having MacArthur on board (not to mention advice from Harvard's Berkman Center) adds a certain gravitas that I doubt she would be able to achieve on her own.

The Chronicle reports that her mother, a business woman who has worked in telecommunications, will run the foundation.  That strikes me as an early misstep.


February 29, 2012 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)