MIDDLE EAST

U.S. Groups Played Secret Role in Mideast Uprisings

Maybe it doesn’t take an invasion to bring democracy to the Middle East: A small group of government-financed democracy-building organizations had a bigger role in sparking the uprisings across the region than previously known. Compared to the billions of dollars the Pentagon has poured into the Middle East in support of American policy, these groups had almost no funding, but they played an outsize role in training pro-democracy dissident leaders in campaigning, social media organization, and election monitoring. Two groups, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, are loosely affiliated with their namesake political parties, and Freedom House is a Washington-based non-profit human-rights group. All receive grants from Congress or the State Department, and trained leaders in Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen. Young Egyptians active in the uprisings this spring also attended a technology conference in New York sponsored by Facebook, Google, MTV, Columbia Law School, and the State Department. “We didn’t fund them to start protests, but we did help support their development of skills and networking,” said the director of another D.C.-based democracy group. “It was their revolution.”