The State Department bankrolled key figures involved in protests to topple Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Al Jazeera reports, raising questions about President Obama’s repeated assertions that his administration isn’t picking sides.
The department funneled tens of thousands of dollars through democracy-building programs to opposition figures moonlighting as non-governmental activists, according to documents obtained by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley. Payments to politicians and political parties would violate both Egyptian and U.S. law.
The administration defended the assistance, saying it cannot control the political activities of people seeking to build democratic institutions in the country. The State Department has continued to give Egypt hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic aid under Morsi’s government, over the objections of some in Congress.
“The line between politics and activism is very blurred in this country,” David Linfield, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, told Al Jazeera.
The controversial payments reportedly include some $120,000 paid over four years by the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to an organization in Falls Church, Va., run by Col. Omar Afifi Soliman, a former member of Egypt’s investigative police unit.
Soliman was sentenced in absentia last year for allegedly inciting violence against the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Cairo and has called for Egyptians to overthrow Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government and murder its supporters, according to an Al Jazeera review of court documents and his social media posts.