- By Josh Rogin
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo was planning to spend $667,200 on a youth soccer mentorship program in Egypt, to be run through the Egyptian Ministry of Interior. However, it withdrew its funding request following the Interior Ministry’s brutal crackdowns on Egyptian youth during the anti-regime protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak earlier this month.
The State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma sent out the initial congressional notification about the Egyptian soccer program on Jan. 25, the same day that the massive popular protests broke out in Egypt. The money was to come from the State Department’s account for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, demining, and related programs (NADR) from fiscal 2010 and was to be given to U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey. The program would have operated in conjunction with the Egyptian Ministry of Interior and the Egyptian police.
But on Tuesday, Verma sent a letter to Congress, obtained by The Cable, withdrawing the notification.
"Based on the events of the past week, questions have arisen about the appropriateness and feasibility of proceeding at this time with the proposed youth soccer mentorship program in Egypt," Verma wrote, also noting that embassy personnel were preoccupied now and could not oversee the program.
"Moreover, there are questions about the role of the Egyptian Ministry of Interior and the Egyptian Police in recent events. Before proceeding with a youth engagement activity involving the two organizations, additional time for the situation to settle is needed."
The State Department could resubmit the request for soccer program funding at a later date, Verma wrote.
For longtime critics of the State Department’s relationship with the Egyptian government, the fact that a soccer program was being planned in conjunction with the Interior Ministry shows a lack of understanding of the body’s relationship with the Egyptian population.
"You could forgive someone for thinking this congressional notification came straight from The Onion," said Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute. "If it weren’t so pathetic — in a nutshell what’s wrong with U.S. foreign aid — it would be hysterical."