Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Combatting Corruption in Egypt During the Arab Spring: USAID’s Role


The eighteen-day revolution to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 brought a wave of democracy to Egypt—one that was widely supported by the United States and much of the international community. Despite Mubarak’s reluctance to step down and efforts to eliminate Egypt’s internet access during the protests, the mass assembly in Tahrir Square eventually pushed the president of nearly three decades to resign and to hand power over to Egypt’s military. Shortly after, Mohamed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party took office as the first democratically-elected president of Egypt. President Morsi had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that played a leading role in the 2011 protests to oust Mubarak. Despite hopes for an open, democratic government, Morsi (with continued strong support from the Muslim Brotherhood) grew increasingly autocratic,  This led to further political instability and a military coup d’état which removed Morsi from power in 2013.

Foreign Service National (FSN) Ali Kamel Ali worked with USAID for 25 years, specializing in agricultural economic development. Kamel was even once referred to as “the most prominent person at USAID” by a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt. As an Egyptian-born FSN, Kamel handled heightened responsibility working with the Egyptian government amidst the budget cuts, policy reversals, and increased lack of communication during the chaos and political instability of the Arab Spring and the election of the Muslim Brotherhood. Those who worked with Kamel valued his ability to “bring the two cultures together—the American and Egyptian.”  Ali Kamel was interviewed by Carole Peasley on December 19, 2016.  

Read Ali Kamel’s full oral history HERE.

Excerpts:
“The U.S. government supported the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming they were democratically elected, so we have to support them.”

Dealing with corruption during regime change:  “It started January 2011. In June 2012, Muslim Brotherhood took over which was the worst year for Egypt…. Whenever I go to a ministry I find new advisors coming from the Brotherhood. Their main interest was, “How are we going to make money out of this?” I said, “No, we’re working for Egypt. Not our personal development. Anyway that was in the ministry of Finance for example. I used to handle an activity called ERRADA, which in Arabic means will or determination. That was mainly eliminating unneeded rules and regulations, to clean up…. When we started this project in 2007, Egypt became much better in doing business…. Then when Muslim Brotherhood came, they stopped ERRADA until they could see what they would gain out of it. So, I didn’t hate ERRADA, but I hated the players. When I go to Finance or Ministry of Investment or Ministry of Trade, they were all the same advisers, moving from one place to another. They tried to control all government and ministries.”

 

The challenges of development under the Muslim Brotherhood: “They were performing government functions, but were not government functionaries. They were performing governing functions and were paid much higher than government employees because they were advisors, and could be hired by decree. So I swear I went to a meeting where 20-plus advisors were in the room, and when I entered I didn’t know any of them. None of them were technical…. So at that time I didn’t like it because the U.S. government supported the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming they were democratically elected, so we have to support them. So in one year they destroyed most of what we did. On privatization, they got some hotels back from private sector and they owned them themselves. Not many people know this…. This is when I decided to leave Egypt and came to work [with a contractor in Washington, D.C.].”

Drafted by Ben Bosland

TABLE OF CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS

Education

     BS in Agricultural Economics, Cairo University                                                                           1976

     MS in Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University                                                         1987

     Graduate Studies in Macroeconomics, Harvard University                                                        1992

     Graduate Studies in Finance, University of Colorado at Boulder                                               1995

Joined USAID                                                                                                                                         1989

     Cairo, Egypt – USAID Mission to Cairo, Agriculture Economics                                               1989-2014

Creative Associates International

     Senior Associate and Director – Livelihood and Economic Recovery                                        2014-Present

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