Foreign Money: A Problem in Russia, Not in Lebanon
By: Rami Zurayk
Published Sunday, August 5, 2012
On July 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin passed a law partially regulating the relationship between NGOs and foreign funding. The law, known as the “foreign agents law,” says that “anyone in Russia who receives funding from a foreign country with the aim of carrying out work which has political dimensions, even if it is humanitarian, developmental or social, has to register themselves with the official authorities as foreign agents.”
The law came as a bombshell to the Russian civil society sector, which receives significant material support from a number of Western countries – particularly the United States, which funds organizations working on human rights and democracy.
The organizations have threatened to boycott the law, denying that they are “agents” because they receive money from US government sources, some of which, like the US development agency USAID are directly controlled by the State Department.
Of course, the US State Department strongly criticized the law, accusing the Russian administration of exaggeration and intimidation with the aim of limiting freedom and democracy.
But this new Russian law is not strange to the US, which closely monitors all organizations that have anything to do with Islam or Arabs, especially if it relates to Palestine. US government agencies might even go to the extent of fabricating charges against them and imprisoning their directors even if they have never received a cent from a foreign country.
The US Foreign Agents Registration Act, which goes back to 1938, allows the monitoring of organizations which pose an ideological threat to the US. It now applies to the Arabs and Palestine, but it was meant to deal with the “Red Threat” during the Cold War.
In Lebanon, where the NGO sector thrives on the generosity of foreign funders of all kinds, and where democracy, gender issues, governance and human rights have become specialist careers, we have no need for any of these laws. This is because the organizations belonging to those in power are funded openly, and because the agents, when they do get caught, emerge from courts as heroes.
Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.