US Establishes Democracy Funds for Syria
The United States will hand out about $5 million in grants to democratic reformers in Syria, the State Department announced on Friday.
It did not indicate which Syrian groups would get the funds but said they were aimed at "accelerating the work of reformers".
To support freedom and democracy in Syria, the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) announced today it will award $5 million in grants to accelerate the work of reformers in Syria.
The grants, which are expected to range from $100,000 to $1,000,000, will build up Syrian civil society and support organizations promoting democratic practices such as the rule of law; government accountability; access to independent sources of information; freedom of association and speech; and free, fair and competitive elections.
"The United States stands firmly with courageous men and women struggling for their freedom across the Middle East, including in Syria," said Elizabeth Cheney, principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau. "The people of Syria deserve the opportunity to build a better future and to live in freedom."
President George W. Bush launched MEPI in 2002 to promote positive reform in the Middle East and North Africa. The initiative has received more than $293 million to support more than 350 programs in 14 countries and the Palestinian territories.
To see the request for grant applications for Syria, go to www.mepi.state.gov and click on Current Opportunities and Syria Democracy Program Announcement. The deadline for concept papers is March 30.
"The United States stands firmly with courageous men and women struggling for their freedom across the Middle East, including in Syria," said senior State Department official Elizabeth Cheney, who announced the grants. The grants "will build up Syrian civil society and support organizations promoting democratic practices such as the rule of law; government accountability; access to independent sources of information; freedom of association and speech; and free, fair and competitive elections," the statement said.
This is a long overdue program. To think that the US has been talking about democracy in the region for years and never allocated proper funds for it in Syria. This is a good start. Now Syrians will have to figure out how they can apply for the funds without getting bashed by their government.
Ironically, American legislators are trying to have the embassy staff reduced even further, which will undermine the effectiveness of democracy promotion. Only by supporting effective representatives on the ground in Syria can America be expected to evaluate and judge how best to promote democracy. Building links to courageous and imaginative people working in Syria who are trying to expand the scope of local civic institutions should be key.
"Congressman Eliot Engel told the "Daily Star" that he found it "surprising" that, despite the fact Syria has been on the U.S. list of countries believed to be supporting terrorism since 1979, the U.S. administration continued to have normal diplomatic ties with Damascus." Evidently Russia is seen as a stumbling block standing in the way of gaining UN support for further sanctions against Syria. Engel called on Russia "to act responsibly" should the U.S. present a proposal to level sanctions on Syria through the UN Security Council, saying: "Fighting terrorism is everyone's responsibility, not only America's responsibility."
Another reason for the delay in UN action is that the new Hariri prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, is having some trouble "putting together his team."
A spokeswoman for the investigation told The Daily Star on Friday that those who had worked on the investigation previously had been forced to leave after their contracts ran out. "They had a limited time contract, and after the contract was over they went back to permanent jobs in their institutions," the spokeswoman said, adding that new members of the team are arriving each week and that staff are still being recruited. The spokeswoman said "recruitment takes time" because "Brammertz is also looking for people with certain expertise, who are not always immediately available or not willing to come for short and temporary assignments.”