The U.S. Embassy in Cairo was planning to spend $667,200 on
a youth soccer mentorship program in Egypt, to be run through the Egyptian
Ministry of Interior. However, it withdrew its funding request following the Interior
Ministry's brutal crackdowns on Egyptian youth during the anti-regime protests
that toppled President Hosni Mubarak
earlier this month.
The State Department's Assistant Secretary for Legislative
Affairs Richard Verma sent out the
notification about the Egyptian soccer program on Jan. 25, the same day
that the massive popular protests broke out in Egypt. The money was to come
from the State Department's account for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism,
demining, and related programs (NADR) from fiscal 2010 and was to be given to
U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey.
The program would have operated in conjunction with the Egyptian Ministry of
Interior and the Egyptian police.
But on Tuesday, Verma sent a letter
to Congress, obtained by The Cable,
withdrawing the notification.
"Based on the events of the past week, questions have arisen
about the appropriateness and feasibility of proceeding at this time with the
proposed youth soccer mentorship program in Egypt," Verma wrote, also noting
that embassy personnel were preoccupied now and could not oversee the program.
"Moreover, there are questions about the role of the
Egyptian Ministry of Interior and the Egyptian Police in recent events. Before
proceeding with a youth engagement activity involving the two organizations,
additional time for the situation to settle is needed."
The State Department could resubmit the request for soccer
program funding at a later date, Verma wrote.
For longtime critics of the State Department's relationship
with the Egyptian government, the fact that a soccer program was being planned in
conjunction with the Interior Ministry shows a lack of understanding of the
body's relationship with the Egyptian population.
"You could forgive someone for thinking this
congressional notification came straight from The Onion," said Danielle Pletka, vice
president of the American Enterprise Institute. "If it weren't so pathetic -- in
a nutshell what's wrong with U.S. foreign aid -- it would be hysterical."
Qatar — The State Department's top Middle East official, Jeffrey Feltman, said Thursday that he was personally
"inspired" by the youth-led revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and that
the uprisings roiling the Arab world showed "there's a fundamental shift
in the relationship of how people in the region view their rulers."
the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, was in Qatar on
one of several stops in the Persian Gulf, where the United States is seeking to
reassure nervous allies even as it urges them to embrace meaningful political
reform. He was a speaking at a town-hall meeting hosted by Northwestern University in Qatar and billed as a
forum on media and Internet freedom in the Arab world.
remarks in Doha come at a time of great upheaval in the Middle East, and most
dramatically now in Libya, where anti-government protesters have seized huge swaths
of the country and are vowing to march on the capital Tripoli to finish the
Muammar al-Qaddafi again took to the
airwaves to accuse the protesters of taking drugs and carrying out al Qaeda's
agenda -- while forces loyal to the embattled Libyan leader reportedly
continued their campaign of terror in and around Tripoli -- Feltman said it was
"not clear that Qaddafi is listening to anybody."
appalling what's happening now in Libya. It's really, really appalling,"
Feltman said with obvious emotion. But, he noted, echoing remarks made by
President Barack Obama on Wednesday
evening, that the United States had "a responsibility to our own
citizens" in Libya that took immediate precedence over "a general
obligation to protect Libyan citizens."
whether the United States could do more in Libya to prevent civilian deaths, he
said, "I don't have any answers for you right now, what the right approach
turmoil sweeping the region is not about America, Feltman stressed. "The
United States isn't going to be the one that makes or breaks the changes in the
region today," he said. "To the extent that our advice, our help is
welcome, we will be there … but we don't want to make this story about us."
if he saw more cause for hope or alarm amid the current unrest, he replied,
"I think that the opportunities are greater on the moving toward a better
future side … but the chaos path is open, too."
think the opportunity is real for fundamental and lasting change," he
continued. "But I don't think it's going to be linear."
comes out of the political process in Egypt and Tunisia, he said, is
"going to be a messy system" where "in some cases people are
making it up as they go." But he expressed confidence that newly elected
governments in both countries will be "a heck of a lot more representative
of the popular will" than the previous regimes.
Feltman was not quite ready to declare that U.S. foreign policy has
fundamentally shifted in the region. "U.S. foreign policy is a multiheaded
beast," he said, with "a number of goals that we pursue at any given
time and are constantly balancing."
he said, "you seize opportunities" in making foreign policy, and
"right now the conditions are ripe for really trying to achieve some of
the reform, democracy, human rights goals" the United States had promoted for
years, with little success.
not because our goals are changed," he explained, but rather that "we
don't want to miss the opportunity to accomplish some of the goals."
his words carefully, Feltman also both praised and criticized Al Jazeera, the
Doha-based Arabic satellite network that has played an integral role in inspiring
and intensively covering protest movements that have spread in recent weeks to
Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen.
United States recognizes the phenomenon of Al Jazeera," he said.
"We've had an often difficult relationship" with the satellite
channel, which is funded by the Qatari government but maintains that its
coverage is completely independent.
think it's a very, very important media tool, and we would be stupid to ignore
it," he emphasized.
said," he continued, "we had a lot of questions about the Palestine
Papers" -- the extensive notes of Palestinian
negotiators that were released with great fanfare in late January by Al Jazeera
-- the coverage of which he said blurred the line between "what is
investigative journalism and what becomes character assassination."
was a sensationalist aspect" to the reporting that "didn't seem to
meet the professional standard that Al Jazeera sets for itself," Feltman
said. Saeb Erekat, the top
Palestinian negotiator, resigned in the wake of the uproar over the documents'
publication; the support unit that he headed was abolished.
is on a nine-day tour of Persian Gulf monarchies -- with stops in Qatar,
Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates -- where his mission is to
"reaffirm the United States' commitment to our longstanding partnerships
in the region as well as universal human rights, freedom of expression, and the
promotion of democratic principles," according to a State Department press release.
to an embassy spokesperson, Feltman met on Thursday with Qatari Minister of
State for International Cooperation Khalid
bin Mohammad al-Attiyah, as well as Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim and Ahmed
bin Abdullah al-Mahmoud, the minister of state for foreign affairs.