Happy 239th Birthday America! #July4inJune

Posted: 2:14 am  EDT

 

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta generated some controversy this month when it moved its July 4th celebration to June 4th to avoid conflict with the month-long Ramadan observance in the country.  (See US Embassies Move Fourth of July For Heat, Monsoon Weather, and Now For Ramadan — Read Before Getting Mad). Al Arabiya News Channel reported that Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has announced Thursday, June 18 as the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.  Below is a round-up of posts that marked Fourth of July in June this year.  Our posts in Muslim countries who have yet to celebrate independence day may have to wait until after July 17th to hold their annual celebration.  If you don’t get why, click here or here.

U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia with Ambassador Robert Blake

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US Embassy Cairo, Egypt with Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft

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U.S. Embassy Rabat, Morocco with Ambassador Dwight L. Bush, Sr.

June 4, 2015 | ‘We celebrate tonight not only the anniversary of America’s independence, but also the longstanding and warm ties of friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Morocco.” – Ambassador Bush at last night’s Independence day celebration here at the Embassy, which is the first such celebration at our new Embassy compound.

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco with CG Nicole Theriot

June 14 | U.S. Consul General Nicole Theriot in Casablanca, joined by Ambassador Bush to celebrate 239 years of American independence. This year’s event was a Luau (“great feast”) which incorporated fire dancers, Tiki carvings, volcanoes and delicious food showcasing the rich culture and traditions of the state of Hawaii.”

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

U.S. Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan with Ambassador Susan Elliott

June 8, 2015 | Did you know the United States gained independence 239 years ago? Here are some photos from this year’s early celebration at the Hyatt Regency Dushanbe! This year’s Independence Day commemorates the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – a law securing access, opportunity, inclusion, and full participation for persons with disabilities. In her address, Ambassador Susan Elliott praised U.S.-Tajik cooperation and advocated for greater collaboration to improve conditions for all Tajiks, and highlighted the importance of persons with disabilities having the same rights as non-disabled persons regardless of any disabilities that may prevent them from engaging in daily life.

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan/FB

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan/FB

U.S. Embassy Algiers, Algeria with Ambassador Joan A. Polaschik

US Embassy Algiers/FB

Ambassador Joan A. Polaschik leading the 4th of July celebration at the US Embassy in Algeria, June 15, 2015 | US Embassy Algiers/FB

U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with Ambassador Joseph Yun

June 15 | This year, we celebrate our diverse heritage on the 239th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America in the beautiful island of Penang as well!

US Embassy KL/FB

US Embassy Malaysia Fourth of July celebration in Penang with Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun | US Embassy KL/FB

Time to re-up our favorite Fourth of July video from US Consulate General Milan featuring President Obama, Lady Liberty, then Ambassador David Thorne, Consul General Kyle Scott  and the USCG Milan  crew:

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US Embassy Cairo: Local Guard Arrested on Terrorism Charges Without Prior USG Alert

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

 

The Daily Beast:

“An embassy official confirmed to The Daily Beast that 42-year-old Ahmed Ali, accused by the Egyptians of helping to plan or taking part in more than a dozen attacks on security forces, was an employee in the security service at the mission in downtown Cairo. Egyptian authorities are claiming he is a commander in the militant Helwan Brigades.

Both the lack of any forewarning by the Egyptian authorities and the apparent security failure by the U.S. State Department, which failed to unearth Ali’s membership in the brigades, is likely to prompt outrage on Capitol Hill.”

 Additional details from Daily New Egypt:

The reports claim that State Security prosecution accuse Ali of being a commander with a militant group, the Helwan Brigades, and participating in 13 attacks, including the bombing and burning of a Helwan court.

However, activists who have been documenting a wave of forced disappearances by the Egyptian security authorities in the past two weeks shared an account of a man named ‘Ahmed Amin Suleyman’, 44, who is claimed to be a staff member at the embassy. Suleyman reportedly had his house raided on 25 May, but he was not at home. The following day, Suleyman fell out of contact – 12 days before the reported arrest of ‘Ahmed Ali’.

Following his disappearance, his wife received a phone call informing her that her husband had been arrested. Family members went to the local Helwan police station, but were informed that Suleyman was not there. The family submitted a 1 June telegram to report his disappearance and request support, a copy of which was seen by Daily News Egypt.

VOA reported on June 10 that Egyptian security forces have arrested dozens of activists ahead of a general strike planned for June 11, part of what the activists describe as an unrelenting crackdown on dissent. There are also reports of forced disappearance cases believed to be abductions by security forces.

Local nationals working for our embassies overseas are often targets, especially in repressive countries.  We can’t know this early if these are real charges or if this is a case of a targeted arrest for some other reason.  There’s a lot we don’t know here.  We just hope our congressional reps would refrain from running around with their hair on fire when they read this news.  We should give our government a chance to verify the basis of these Egyptian charges before we hold one more outrage hearing on security failure.

What should be most concerning is the fact that the Government of Egypt apparently had enough evidence to arrest this individual on terrorism charges, but did not provide prior warning to the U.S. government. Why?

Let’s see — we give Egypt  $1.3bn in annual military funding, and no one bothered to pick up the phone to alert the embassy about this alleged terrorist working at the mission? That’s some kind of partnership we have there.

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USAID’s Arab Spring Challenges in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen: The State Department, It’s No.2 Challenge

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

USAID’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a survey (pdf) to identify the challenges USAID faced during the early transition period (December 2010-June 2014) in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. USAID/OIG identified and interviewed 31 key USAID officials from various parts of the organization who have worked on activities in these countries.It also administered a questionnaire to supplement the information gathered from the interviews. Together, 70 employees from USAID were either interviewed or responded to the questionnaire. It notes that the while the survey collected the perspectives of a number of USAID employees, it is not statistically representative of each office or USAID as a whole.

The highest addressee on this report is USAID/Middle East Bureau Assistant Administrator, Paige Alexander. It includes no State Department official nor congressional entities.

Below is an excerpt:

In 2013 OIG conducted a performance audit of USAID/Egypt’s economic growth project1 and found that the changes of the Arab Spring severely affected the project’s progress. Approximately midway through implementation, the project had not made significant progress in seven of the ten tasks in the original plan mainly because of changes in the Egyptian Government’s counterparts and priorities. To adapt to the environment, the project adjusted its plan and identified three new areas of work to focus on. In another audit that year,2 OIG found similar challenges at USAID/Yemen when one of that mission’s main projects had to adjust its approach after the Arab Spring started (page 16).

Beyond project delays, we found a host of other challenges common to all four countries that revolve around three broad categories:

  1. Security
  2. Increased influence from the State Department
  3. Host-countryreadiness

1. Security.

One of the most commonly cited challenges was the difficulty of operating in a volatile environment. Security dictated many aspects of USAID’s operations after the Arab Spring started, and it was not uncommon for activities to be delayed or cancelled because of security issues.
[…]
In addition to access, security also disrupted operations because employees were evacuated from the different countries. U.S. direct-hire employees at USAID/Egypt were evacuated twice in 3 years. In USAID/Yemen, employees were evacuated twice in 3 years for periods of up to 6 months.3 In our survey, 76 percent of the respondents agreed that evacuations made managing projects more difficult.
[…]
Because of the precarious security situations, strict limits were placed on the number of U.S. direct hires who were allowed to be in each country. Employees said the Agency did not have enough staff to support the number of activities. This problem was particularly pronounced in Tunisia and Libya, where for extended periods, USAID had only one permanent employee in each country

2. Increased Influence From State Department.

According to our survey results, the majority of respondents (87 percent) believed that since the Arab Spring the State Department has increased its influence over USAID programs (Figure 3). While USAID did not have activities in Libya and Tunisia before the Arab Spring, staff working in these countries afterward discussed situations in which the State Department had significant influence over USAID’s work. A respondent from Tunisia wrote, “Everything has been driven by an embassy that does not seem to feel USAID is anything other than an implementer of whatever they want to do.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 6.56.05 PM

While there is broad interagency guidance on State’s role in politically sensitive environments, the specifics of how USAID should adapt its operations were not entirely clear to Agency employees and presented a number of challenges to USAID’s operations. In Yemen, the department’s influence seemed to be less of an issue (page 17), but for the remaining countries, it was a major concern. As one survey respondent from Egypt wrote:

[State’s control] makes long-term planning incredibly difficult and severely constrains USAID’s ability to design and execute technically sound development projects. A path forward is agreed, steps taken to design activities and select implementation mechanisms, and then we are abruptly asked to change the approach.

State’s involvement introduced a new layer of review and slowed down operations. USAID employees needed to dedicate additional time to build consensus and gain approval from people outside the Agency.

USAID employees also described challenges occurring when State employees, unfamiliar with the Agency and its different types of procurement, made requests that were difficult to accommodate under USAID procedures. One respondent wrote that State “think[s] programs can be stopped and started at will and that we can intervene and direct partners in a manner that goes far beyond the substantial involvement we are allowed as project managers.”

Beyond operational challenges, many people we interviewed expressed frustration over the State Department’s increased role, particularly when State’s direction diverted USAID programming from planned development priorities and goals. This was an especially contentious issue at USAID/Egypt (page 7).

This difference in perspectives caused some to question State’s expertise in development assistance, particularly in transitional situations. A USAID official explained that countries in turmoil presented unique challenges and dynamics, and embassies may not have experts in this area. Others said USAID was taking direction from State advisers who were often political appointees without backgrounds in development.
[…]
State was not the sole source of pressure; employees said other federal entities such as the National Security Council and even the White House had increased their scrutiny of USAID since the start of the Arab Spring. As a result, mission officials had to deal with new levels of bureaucracy and were responding constantly to different requests and demands from outside the Agency.

3. Host-Country Readiness.

In each of the four countries, employees reported problems stemming from award recipients’ ability to implement assistance programs. According to one employee, local capacity in Libya was a major problem because the country did not have a strong workforce. Moreover, local implementers had not developed the necessary technical capacity because development assistance was not a priority in Libya under Muammar Qadhafi’s closed, oil-rich regime. Activities in Tunisia and Yemen encountered similar issues because neither have had long histories of receiving foreign development assistance. In Egypt, employees reported that some of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on the mission’s democracy and governance program also lacked sufficient capacity.

On Egypt:  More than 85 percent of the employees surveyed who worked on activities related to USAID/Egypt agreed that the State Department had increased its influence over USAID programs since the start of the Arab Spring (Figure 5). A number of respondents said State steered Agency programs to address political rather than development needs. This dynamic had a profound effect on the mission’s ability to follow USAID’s guidance on designing and implementing developmentally sound projects. […] Some mission officials questioned the value of adhering to USAID’s project design procedures when the State Department had already decided a project’s fate. […] In this example, State’s desire to award education scholarships to women in Egypt was difficult to justify because university enrollment data showed that higher education enrollment and graduation rates for women are slightly higher than for men.  […] With so many differing voices and perspectives, USAID employees said they were not getting clear, consistent guidance. They described the situation as having “too many cooks in the kitchen.” One survey respondent wrote:

State (or White House) has had a very difficult time making decisions on USAID programming for Egypt . . . so USAID has been paralyzed and sent through twists and turns. State/White House difficulties in decisions may be expected given the fluid situation, but there has been excessive indecision, and mixed signals to USAID.

On Tunisia: The State Department placed strict restrictions on the number of USAID employees allowed to be in-country. As a result, most Agency activities were managed from Washington, D.C. … [O]ne survey respondent wrote, “I have been working on Tunisia for nearly 3 years now, and have designed programs to be carried out there, but I’ve never been. I don’t feel like I have been able to do my job to the best of my ability without that understanding of the situation on the ground.”

On Libya: The attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, had a profound impact on USAID operations in Libya. According to one interviewee, after the attacks USAID did not want to attract too much political attention and put a number of Agency activities in Libya on hold. The period of inactivity lasted from September 2012 to September 2013. It was not until October 2013, after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted, that the U.S. Government refocused attention on Libya and funding for activities picked up again.

Before the attacks, USAID had five employees in the country; afterward, only one was allowed to remain. Although his main priority then was to manage USAID/OTI projects in Libya, he also was asked to oversee four to five additional activities managed out of Washington—a stretch for any employee. As one survey respondent wrote, “The lack of people in the field in Libya (small footprint) means that DC overwhelms the field. People in the field are worked ragged.”

On Yemen: USAID/Yemen did not suffer from the challenges of unclear strategy that other USAID missions did in the region; 70 percent of respondents who worked on activities in Yemen believed that the Agency had a clear strategy for its post-Arab Spring activities (Figure 12). This is a stark contrast to responses related to USAID/Egypt, where only 22 percent believed that USAID had a clear strategy. …[O]ur survey also found a strong working relationship between USAID/Yemen and the State Department; the two often agreed on what needed to be done. […] Some respondents said the collaborative atmosphere was due to individual personalities and strong working relationships between USAID and State officials. One employee said because employees of both organizations lived and worked together in the close quarters, communication flowed freely as perspectives could be exchanged easily. …[O]ne senior USAID/Yemen official said, some of what needed to be done was so obvious that it was difficult for the two agencies not to agree.

Lessons Learned

The report offers 15 lessons learned including the development of a USAID transition plan at the country level, even if it may change. USAID/OIG says that by having a short-term transition plan, the Agency “would have a better platform to articulate its strategy, particularly when it disagrees with the decisions of other federal entities.”It also lists the following:

  • Resist the urge to implement large development projects that require the support of host governments immediately after a transition.
  • Prepare mission-level plans with Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs)—locally hired USAID employees who are not U.S. citizens—in case U.S. direct hires are evacuated. Evacuation of U.S. staff can be abrupt with only a few hours’ notice. People we interviewed recommended that U.S. staff develop plans with the mission’s FSN staff ahead of time, outlining roles, responsibilities, and modes of operation to prevent a standstill in operations in the event of an evacuation.
  • Get things in writing. When working in environments where USAID is getting input and instructions from organizations that are not familiar with Agency procedures, decisions made outside of USAID may be documented poorly. In such circumstances, it is important to remember to get things in writing.
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Snapshot: U.S.-Funded Democracy/Governance Activities Over Egyptian Govt Objections

— Domani Spero

 

Imagine if a country, say China, sends some of its foreign aid funds to foreign non-government groups in the United States to help us repair our roads and bridges or learn about their people’s congress. What if its National People’s Congress dictates that its embassy in Washington, D.C. does not have to take into account the wishes of the U.S. Government as to where or how that money is spent; that the specific nature of Beijing’s assistance need not be subject to the prior approval by the United States Government. What do you think will happen? If we were up in arms (looking at you Texas) over the UN election monitors, imagine what it would be like if a foreign government starts something crazy like this.

But apparently, that’s exactly what we did in Egypt, thanks to then Senator Sam Brownback’s amendment.

Via GAO:

In 2004, the U.S. government began discussions with the Egyptian government regarding a program to directly fund NGOs and other organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in Egypt outside of the framework of an implementing assistance agreement. From September to November 2004, the two governments worked to outline a process by which the United States would directly fund such activities. Further information on this process can be found in the sensitive version of our report.

Shortly thereafter, Congress approved an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (the Brownback Amendment), which provided further direction regarding assistance for democracy and governance activities in Egypt. The Brownback Amendment stated, “That with respect to the provision of assistance for Egypt for democracy and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval by the Government of Egypt.” 

In fiscal year 2005, USAID began using some democracy and governance assistance to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities, rather than working with the Egyptian government under the implementing assistance agreement. Soon after USAID started to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in fiscal year 2005, the Egyptian government raised objections. Among other things, the Egyptian government stated that USAID was violating the terms of the process that the two governments had outlined in a 2004 exchange of letters. However, the U.S. government officials responded that they were interpreting their commitments based upon the conditions applied by the Brownback Amendment and agreement in diplomatic discussions on direct funding to NGOs.

 

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The Egyptian government strongly objected to some of the U.S. government’s planned assistance for democracy and governance after the January 2011 revolution, including the award of funding to unregistered NGOs.9 These concerns led to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice questioning officials from several NGOs about their activities in late 2011. Subsequently, in December 2011, the Egyptian police raided the offices of four U.S. NGOs that were implementing U.S.-funded democracy and governance activities—Freedom House, ICFJ, IRI, and NDI. In February 2012, the Egyptian government charged employees of these four organizations and a German organization, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with establishing and operating unauthorized international organizations, according to government documents.10 At the time of the charges, all four U.S. organizations reported that they had submitted registration applications to the Egyptian government.11 In June 2013, an Egyptian court convicted a total of 43 employees from the four U.S. NGOs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of these charges and the NGOs had to close their operations in Egypt. Table 1 provides a summary of the grants the U.S. government awarded after the January 2011 revolution to the four U.S. NGOs that were prosecuted. All of the American staff from the NGOs were allowed to leave Egypt before the convictions.

And we end up with this: USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

An FSO offers some perspective:

You imply that the United States would never allow assistance of the kind we provide to Egypt in terms of democracy assistance.  This is not the case.  We do restrict the ability of foreign nations to influence our elections, but foreign nations have both the ability and the right to influence policy decisions in the United States.  Two days ago, I was reading a blog on foreignpolicy.com sponsored by the UAE Embassy.  But much more importantly many foreign governments hire lobbyists, engage in informational campaigns, or provide grants to NGOs in the United States and all of these activities are protected by U.S. law.  
 
To return to Egypt, I have worked on many authoritarian countries including Egypt where the government has done everything possible to squeeze organizations and individuals standing up for human rights and individual freedoms.  Just as we allow foreign countries to engage in policy advocacy in the United States, I see no reason why we should engage in unilateral human rights disarmament and allow the objections of the Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Russians, Chinese, and Burmese among others about their sovereignty prevent us from aiding individuals and organizations these governments are seeking to crush.  Having said this, I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure that our assistance does not endanger the individuals and organizations we are seeking to support and protect.  It’s a tough line to walk, but I have sought to walk it many times in my Foreign Service career. 

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USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

— Domani Spero

 

WaPo’s report on whistleblowers’ complaints that critical details had been sanitized from publicly released reports of USAID OIG includes an item on the NGO trial and bail money in Egypt:

[T]he Egyptian government charged 43 NGO workers with operating illegally. Sixteen of them were Americans, including the son of then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The Americans were freed in March 2012 after USAID secretly paid the Egyptian government $4.6 million in “bail” money.
[…]
On March 1, 2012, the Americans were permitted to leave the country after USAID transferred $4.6 million from a local currency trust fund to the Egyptian government as “bail.” USAID’s connection to the money was not disclosed at the time.

“This was paid by the NGOs,” a State Department spokeswoman said that day.
[…]

Several findings were condensed; entire sections disappeared. They included a section titled “USAID/Egypt Borrowed Local Currency From the Trust Fund for Bail Expenses.”

That section raised questions about the legality of using the $4.6 million to free the NGO workers. Also deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

 

A lie and a bribe:

A ransom:

 

The State Department spokeswoman not named in the report was the former spox, and now Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.  And because the lie was from the official podium of the State Department, this was an official USG lie. Let’s revisit the Daily Press Briefing from March 1, 2012:

QUESTION: Victoria, could you clarify for us the role of the U.S. Government in posting the bond? I understand that $300,000 per individual was posted and the promise that they will return to face trial. Could you explain to us if there was any role for the U.S. Government in that aspect?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just clarify that none of these people who have now departed were in custody, none of them were subject to arrest warrants. They were under travel restrictions. So at the request of the attorneys for the employees, the Egyptian court ruled that the travel restrictions would be lifted if the employees posted bail. So through their lawyers, the NGOs made payments on behalf of their employees from available funds. So there were no bribes paid, and this was paid by the NGOs.

QUESTION: No, I did not suggest that there was any bribes. I just wanted to ask if there was any official role for the U.S. Government to post bail. Some people may not have had the money. I mean, did you try to help them post that money? It’s a huge sum of money for the bail.

MS. NULAND: The organizations paid the bail.

QUESTION: But these organizations get money from the U.S. Government. Was there any government money involved in this bail payment?

MS. NULAND: The checks for this bail, as I understand it, came from the organizations.

QUESTION: But as I say, these organizations are funded, some of them quite – to the tune of quite a lot of money. So was there any taxpayer money involved in paying this bail? And if there was, which I understand there was, what happens if they – if bail is forfeited, if these people decide not to go back and to face the charges? Does that leave the taxpayer on the hook for however much the percentage was that you guys kicked in?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, to be clear, the bail was posted by the organizations.

QUESTION: Yes, but if I —

MS. NULAND: That said —

QUESTION: But if I give you $300,000 and then you give it to the Egyptians, it’s technically correct that you paid the Egyptians, but it’s my money.

MS. NULAND: Again, the bail was paid by the organizations. You are not wrong that these organizations benefit from U.S. Government funding. They benefit from U.S. Government funding so that they can do the work that they do to support a democratic transition. With regard to the fungibility of money or anything with regard to that, I will have to take that question.

 

So the NGOs paid Egypt; maybe those NGO’s carried and handed $4.6 million to the money shakers, and we called it NGO money. But apparently, it’s USAID money, so really — U.S. taxpayers’ money.  And but for this WaPo report, the American public would not have known that we paid the bail money because the key finding about the $4.6 million payment to free the NGO workers in Egypt was removed from the performance audit and placed into financial documents.  Documents that are not made public. Also apparently deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

So in places where American NGOs and USAID operates, a not too friendly host government can grab any of the staffers for any purported local crime, and USAID will pay ransom bail money to get the staffers released and returned to the United States; and it can put the details about those payments in USAID financial documents that we never get to see?

And we wonder why people get jaded watching this show.

The world is changing. While this information might have been hidden in the past from public view for say 20 years or until the FRUS is released, things, at least some things increasingly don’t work like that anymore. The refresh cycle on sunshine in government is coming at shorter bursts.

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U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv: Rafah Border Crossing Open For U.S. Passport Holders on July 14

— Domani Spero

 

Today Haaretz reports that Israel’s operation entered its sixth day as the death toll in Gaza mounted to more than 160 Palestinians and as the international community stepped up pressures to reach a cease-fire (live updates here).  However, the NYT notes that Israel and Hamas seemed to signal little public interest in international appeals for a cease-fire as they continued their barrages. “More than 130 rockets were fired out of Gaza into Israel on Sunday, with 22 intercepted, the Israeli Army said, while Palestinians expressed anger over the previous day’s Israeli strikes on a center for people with disabilities and on a home in an attack that killed 17 members of one extended family.”

Last week, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip.  Egyptian authorities have reportedly opened the crossing specifically to allow in wounded Palestinians for treatment in Egyptian hospitals. According to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Rafah border crossing will re-open again tomorrow, July 14, and would allow entry of U.S. passport holders into Egypt although no assistance will be available from US Embassy Cairo at the crossing.  Below is the embassy statement:

The Department of State has received information from the Government of Egypt that the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt will open for United States Citizen passport holders on Monday, July 14, 2014, starting from 09:00 and closing at 15:00. U.S. citizens under the age of 16 can be escorted by one non-U.S. citizen parent only. At this time U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) cannot use the Rafah border crossing.

Please be advised that no U.S. Embassy Cairo personnel will be present at the Rafah border crossing or in the northern Sinai region, as this area is off limits to U.S. Embassy Cairo personnel due to security concerns. United States Citizens who travel through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt do so at their own risk.

On July 11, Embassy Tel Aviv also announced the relocation of its personnel out of Be’er Sheva due to ongoing hostilities:

Due to ongoing hostilities and the continuing rocket attacks throughout Israel, U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv has relocated Embassy personnel assigned to Be’er Sheva north to Herzliya.  The Embassy and its annexes continue to operate at minimal staffing.  The Consular Section will continue to provide only emergency services.  Embassy personnel are not permitted to travel south of greater Tel Aviv without prior approval.  Embassy families living in Tel Aviv and greater Tel Aviv, such as Herzliya, are being advised to remain in close communication with one another.

The Embassy continues to closely monitor the security situation and advises U.S. citizens to visit the website of the Government of Israel’s Home Front Command for further emergency preparedness guidance.

Recent events underscore the importance of situational awareness. We remind you to be aware of your surroundings at all times, to monitor the media, and to follow directions of emergency responders.

Read more here.

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Confirmations: Stuart Jones (Iraq), Robert Beecroft (Egypt), Thomas P. Kelly III (Djibouti

— Domani Spero

 

 

That did not take long.  On June 25, the SFRC cleared President Obama’s nominees for Iraq and Egypt.  Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nominees for those two posts:

Stuart E. Jones, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iraq; Confirmed: 93-0

Robert Stephen Beecroft, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Arab Republic of Egypt (voice vote)

Yesterday, the Senate also confirmed the nomination of our next ambassador to Djibouti:

Thomas P. Kelly III, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Djibouti.

 

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US Embassy Cairo FSN Ahmed Alaiba Detained Since 1/25–State Dept Still Seeking “Clarity”

❊ If you want to help keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub ❊

— Domani Spero

Cairo Post reported on February 11 that Egyptian National Security arrested a local employee on Jan. 25 who works for the U.S. embassy in Cairo.  On February 12, NYT’s David Kirkpatrick has additional details:

Security forces have detained an Egyptian employee of the United States Embassy who worked as a liaison to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian news reports said Wednesday, stirring fears of pressure on Western diplomats who communicate with the Islamist opposition.

Embassy officials said the employee, Ahmed Alaiba, was detained on Jan. 25, the third anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising here, and he has been held without charges since then.
[…]
An Egyptian government official briefed on the case said Mr. Alaiba was under investigation for both participating in an illegal demonstration and “communicating with an outlawed group.”
[…]
Mr. Alaiba, an Egyptian citizen, has no diplomatic immunities. But some Western diplomats said that the leaks to the Egyptian news media about his arrest appeared to convey a message to them as well. Many diplomats were already wrestling with fears of possible retribution from the military-backed government if they continued meeting with Brotherhood officials as they did before the takeover.

Questions about Mr. Alaiba’s arrest made it to the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing with Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. This FSN has been detained since January 25. Besides repeating what has already been reported in the news media, Ms. Harf could only promise to “see if we have more clarity on this.” Eighteen days after the embassy employee was detained, Ms. Harf could not even say what was this employee’s job at the embassy?!

Typically, the local employees who do work overseas like Mr. Alaiba’s are political assistants or political specialists. These are fairly common jobs in diplomatic missions.  We do want to know what the former DCM, now  Chargé d’Affaires Markc Sievers is doing about the detention of a member of his embassy’s staff?  Yes, he’s Egyptian, and a local employee, and he’s one of ours.  If uncorrected, this could become a dangerous precedent. Anyone who works for the U.S. government in Egypt who talks to MB officials or supporters or other opposition figures could just be thrown into jail without charges or some spurious ones.

In some dark corners of the net, the conspiracy theorists are already busy. This is apparently proof of President Obama’s secret support for the Muslim Brotherhood.  Which just shows how little people know about what our official representatives do overseas.  Our diplomats and local employees talk to host country governments and opposition parties/figures around the globe.  What they learn help inform the decisions that our government makes.  This happens whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. Some of the folks our officials talk to are not very nice, some are corrupt, some would not even think twice about stabbing us in the back. But that’s the world we lived in.  To expect that our government officials should only talk to the government in power is idiotic, that gives us only half the story. It also makes it impossible for our people to do substantial work when the levers of power change hands.  So, do think about that when you hear about these nutty stuff.

Now, can we please have somebody at the podium who wears a hat or sash that says, “Clarity is my name” whether it snows or not?

Excerpt below from the greatest mid-day show in town:

QUESTION: I wanted to start by asking about the Embassy employee in Cairo who was arrested for his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood. First off, what is the reaction of the State Department? What’s being done, I assume, to have him released, if he hasn’t been released already? And then if you could talk a little more broadly about whether or not the State Department or the Administration believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, and what this says about dealing with a government in Cairo that is refusing to recognize such a significant part of the population in Egypt.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. So we can confirm that a locally employed staff member of the U.S. Embassy was detained on January 25th and that, as far as we understand, he has been held without charges since then. We have been in touch with the Government of Egypt and have requested additional information about his case. The locally employed staff member was detained, I think, over a weekend on January 25th while off-duty, as I think maybe you mentioned.

The United States does not – has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. We have been very clear in Egypt that we will work with all sides and all parties to help move an inclusive process forward. We’ve also repeatedly, both publicly and privately, called on the interim government to move forward in an inclusive manner. That means talking to all parties, bringing them into the process. We’re not saying what the future government should look like specifically other than that it should be inclusive. That, of course, includes the Muslim Brotherhood. We will continue talking to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as part of our broad outreach to the different parties and groups there.

QUESTION: So if he was arrested or detained anyways off-duty, is it your understanding he was – he is being detained because of his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood, or was there another reason to your understanding?

MS. HARF: Let me see if we have more clarity on this. I’m not sure we have entire clarity about the reasons for his continued detention. Let me check with our folks and see. Again, I’m not sure if we know exactly why he’s being detained.

QUESTION: Because otherwise, I mean I’m sure other employees at the Embassy are – would be reluctant to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood or any opposition groups that the current government in Cairo seems to not look upon favorably. And —

MS. HARF: Let me see – oh, sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, and so I just wonder, as you say, how the Obama Administration and the State Department is going to continue reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood. How will they do that if employees are being arrested and there’s certain penalties that people have to face in doing so.

MS. HARF: Well – yeah. No, it’s – to be clear, I’m not saying that that was the reason for his detention. I would need to confirm that with folks.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t heard that, so let me check and see that.

Again, he was a locally employed staff member. Our folks that are on the ground there have been talking to the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups as well. So let me see two things if I can get a little more clarity about the reason for his detention and also what his job was at the Embassy. I just don’t have all that clarity.

QUESTION: Okay. So would an American official at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo be able to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood? I assume they have been.

MS. HARF: Well, they certainly have been. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: And again, I’m not sure that was the reason for his detention. So before we sort of take this – I’m happy to check and see if we just have some more clarity on that.

* * *

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US Embassy Egypt: Ordered Departure Lifted, Issues New Travel Alert

— Domani Spero

On January 6, the State Department issued a new Travel Alert advising U.S. citizens of the risks of travelling to Egypt due to continuing unrest.  The ordered departure of US Embassy Cairo and USCG Alexandria staff have now been lifted but the personnel for the constituent post is still operating out of Cairo pending security upgrades in Alexandria.

The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the risks of travelling to Egypt due to the continuing political and social unrest. This Travel Alert supersedes the Travel Alert issued on December 18, 2013, and will expire on March 16, 2014.

Based on an assessment of the security situation in Egypt, the Department of State lifted the ordered departure status for U.S. Embassy personnel on November 6, 2013.  The State Department lifted ordered departure status for U.S. Consulate General Alexandria on December 16, 2013. However, Consulate General personnel will be based out of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo while required facility security upgrades are made.

Political unrest, which intensified after the July 2013 change of government, is likely to continue in the near future. Demonstrations have on numerous occasions resulted in violent clashes between security forces and protesters and between protesters supporting different factions, some of which have resulted on occasion in deaths and injuries to those involved, and property damage. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. Of continued concern is gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the targets of sexual assault. There have been instances of the use of firearms as well. Most violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including Cairo and its suburbs, Alexandria, and Port Said.

The security situation in North Sinai, including the major east-west coastal highway and the towns of El Arish, Shaykh Zuwayd, El Gorah and Rafah, has been marked by ongoing violent attacks on Egyptian security personnel and by continuing and frequently intense security operations against the sources of violence. The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid travel to North Sinai.

The security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, the Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise routes, and Red Sea/Southern and Western Sinai resorts such as Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh, Dahhab, Nuweiba, and Taba has been calm; U.S. citizens should remain alert to local security developments.

The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse.

Read in full here.

On the same day, the US Embassy in Cairo issued an Emergency Message with security updates for Coptic Christmas, observed today, the 7th day of January. It recommended that  “U.S. citizens remain vigilant, particularly if visiting Coptic churches over the next 48 hours. If there are signs or indications that a problem exists or is developing the best course of action is to leave the area.”

 ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Senate Confirms Former Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson for the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau

— Domani Spero

Late afternoon on December 16, the Senate began a 15 minute roll call vote on confirmation of Executive Calendar #406, Anne W. Patterson, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Ambassador, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs).  She was confirmed by 78-16 votes.

The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), currently headed by Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones, deals with U.S. foreign policy and U.S. diplomatic relations with AlgeriaBahrainEgyptIranIraqIsraelJordan,KuwaitLebanonLibyaMoroccoOmanPalestinian Territories,QatarSaudi ArabiaSyriaTunisiaUnited Arab Emirates, andYemen. Regional policy issues that NEA handles include Iraq, Middle East peace, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and political and economic reform.

The former Deputy State IG, and former ambassador to Egypt (also to El Salvador and Colombia) will now be in charge of that whole region.

Ambassador Patterson  will take over a bureau that this past summer, sacrificed one of it’s DASes in the Benghazi fallout.   She succeeds Jeffrey Feltman whose NEA bureau back in 2011 gets high marks despite the workload and chaos.  See Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in Action Gets High Marks: Outstanding Job, High Morale Amidst Intense Workload and Regional Chaos.  Ambassador Feltman left in May 2012 for the Political Affairs position in the UN.

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