The United Kingdom plans to increase financial support for Egyptian civil society organisations that London believes are working for political and economic reform. UK government officials have also said it was “not necessary” to inform Egyptian or Arab governments about British financial aid to local NGOs.
“We’re expecting to double our spending next year,” a spokesman for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) told Ahram Online.
According to FCO figures, the UK spent some £5 million in 2011 on helping non-governmental organisations in nine Arab countries, including Egypt and Tunisia. These organisations contributed to 47 projects in the fields of political participation, rule of law, corruption, public voice, youth employability and private sector development, according to the FCO.
“Our financial help doesn’t have to go through official Egyptian government channels,” the FCO spokesman confirmed. “It goes directly to civil society organisations that submit qualified projects.”
While the UK informs local governments about financial assistance if they specifically ask about it, “this is not necessary,” said the spokesman. He added that his country was “very transparent” in terms of giving money to organisations in other countries, because “this is taxpayers’ money and they must be reassured as to where it is being spent.”
The UK is currently financing a handful of projects in Egypt. “Most of the projects are directly implemented by international organisations without a local partner,” said the FCO spokesman.
There are a few partners, however, which are receiving direct support, such as Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Anna Lindh Foundation. In the median field, the UK is financially assisting Thomson Reuters, a locally registered organisation devoted to training Egyptian journalists.
As part of this project, Aswat Misriya (“Egyptian Voices”), a website devoted to election news and information (with content-sharing agreements with Al-Ahram and Al-Shorouq newspapers), has been established. There is also some cooperation between the UK’s FCO and Egypt’s Radio and Television Union.
Other organisations that receive financial support to pursue projects in Egypt include the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham House and the Carter Centre.
"These organisations' security is still an issue,” stressed the FCO spokesman. “We don’t announce names of organisations receiving our help if it will put the security of these organisations at risk.”
"In some African countries, for example, we couldn’t announce the names of organisations that support homosexuality because this would endanger these organisations," he added.
On 8 February, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague announced an initiative dubbed “the UK-Arab Partnership.” He explained that the initiative “leads our long-term strategic approach to the Arab Spring, working with those in the region that want to put the building blocks of more open, free societies, underpinned by vibrant economies, in place.”
Within the context of this initiative, the UK has committed £110 million over the next four years with the aim of “supporting political and economic reform” across the region.
Hague pledged that the money would provide recipient countries – including Tunisia and Egypt – “with support for lasting political and economic reform through the building blocks of democracy: institutions, political pluralism, free media and economic fairness and opportunity.”
The UK’s foreign office appears to be particularly interested in the local Arab media sector. “We support Egyptian media in order to be able to hold the government accountable,” said the FCO spokesman. This support, he explained, includes training programmes for Egyptian journalists to achieve proficiency in investigative journalism.