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- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: World News
This convergence of soft power and corporate responsibility has its roots in America’s Executive branch. The Egyptian Competitiveness Project (ECP) is an “initiative targeted primarily towards Muslim-majority countries” (according to its website) born out of President Obama’s Entrepreneurial Summit in April of 2010, which was itself borne out of President Obama’s infamous June 2009 “New Beginning” speech at Cairo University.
According to USAID’s website, the goals of the ECP include “Promoting private sector and civil society leadership on policy dialogue” and “Encouraging the Government of Egypt to institutionalize mechanisms of accountability, monitoring and evaluation of economic initiatives.” The ECP claims it’s seeking to “Develop and support entrepreneurial programs and activities which would include mentoring, training and facilitating financing…” among other goals.
Following in the workshop’s footsteps, this September, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton presented a new component of the Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP), The Entrepreneurship Toolkit. Its purpose is to “help GEP partners design, implement, and monitor successful entrepreneurship development programs.” Among the Toolkit’s case studies for “Mixed Models” is the Goldman Sachs program called 10,000 Women, “a five-year investment by Goldman Sachs to provide underserved female entrepreneurs around the world with a business and management education”.
One of the beneficiaries of this program is Cairo resident Mona. She received management and leadership training which helped her expand her True Vine Publishing House literature translation business. There is no doubt that the government partnered Goldman Sachs program helped this woman improve her life. It is a feel-good image to be sure.
There is similarly no doubt that the Egyptian Competitiveness Project internship awarded to the Bey2ollak team was a huge boost in their careers. That’s what the US government and its corporations want you to associate them with. These are the images they want you to see: smiling, hopeful, joyous.
This was, in fact, largely the image presented to me by Gamal Sadek of Bey2ollak during our interview. I would be lying if I said it was not initially persuasive. Bey2ollak (roughly translated to English meaning “word on the street”) is a mobile phone application which allows users to report traffic conditions wherever they are from their mobile phones. For added safety, there is support available on the system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. By all accounts, it is an incredibly successful model for a social media community which is responsive, self-perpetuating and all inclusive.
My interview with Sadek was extremely pleasant. We talked about his trip to California (“It’s really funny slash sad, I have been to California and Stanford, people would say do you have cars in Egypt, do you ride camels? This is only what they see in movies”) and about his internship with Ryan Allis, the iContact CEO, in North Carolina.
I asked Sadek if he had any moral qualms about accepting money from the same government which is arming the SCAF , as it kills and humiliates his people on a daily basis. He responded with a cautioning message to the US government, saying, “…people cannot take this anymore, and it’s getting more and more obvious. Instead of supporting governments, support people, don’t support governments which are trying to govern and suppress”. He also added: “I do differentiate different government agencies. Every entity on its own.” The argument he seemed to be making is that although the US government has in the past wrongly directed its aid to Egypt’s military rather than its people, this new State Department initiative he is the beneficiary of is the first step on the road to changing this ratio.
It’s a truly feel good story: successful American entrepreneur helps out up and coming entrepreneurs from post-revolution Egypt, all possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of the good ol’ US of A. The only problem is it’s not true.
The Congressional Justification for Foreign Operations indicates that for Fiscal Year 2012, Egypt will receive $1.56 billion in foreign aid from the US government. $250 million of that will go towards an Economic Support Fund: “Programs funded through this account are critical to U.S. national security by preventing wars and containing conflicts, and foster economic prosperity at home by opening markets overseas, promoting U.S. exports, and helping countries transition to developed economies.”
Guess what the rest of the $1.3 billion of that total $1.56 billion goes towards? Foreign Military Financing.
Soft power, corporate responsibility programs, and their close cousins green-washing and pink washing, cynically exploit the sympathy of average people into unknowingly supporting the worst kinds of oppression and atrocities against people’s basic humanity. Even if the product or government which claims to be “green” or “pink” is actually helping people, that does not excuse the 80-90% of what that company or government does which does not support environmental, development , or human rights causes? What role do these legitimately positive things play in justifying and perpetuating the other 80-90% negative parts? Do they provide a veneer of respectability which enables the entire apparatus to keep going, while all the government/corporation have to do is dedicate an insignificant portion of their massive wealth towards a public relations campaign?
I’ll close with the words of Greenpeace’s “Stop Greenwash” website: Clean up your act, NOT your image.By Joseph Glatzer, Aslan Media Contributor
*Photo Credit: BlueSun Photography
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