6 May 2005 at 12:00:36 AM
We are interested in finding out more about MEPI (Middle East Partnership Initiative), particularly the education outreach programs. MEPI is a Democratization program. The Department of State has this:
The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is a Presidential initiative founded to support economic, political, and educational reform efforts in the Middle East and champion opportunity for all people of the region, especially women and youth. The initiative strives to link Arab, U.S., and global private sector businesses, non-governmental organizations, civil society elements, and governments together to develop innovative policies and programs that support reform in the region. As the President outlined in his Nov. 6, 2003 speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. MEPI is the administration's primary diplomatic policy and development programmatic tool to support this new U.S. policy.
MEPI is structured in four reform areas. In the economic pillar, MEPI policy and programs support region-wide economic and employment growth driven by private sector expansion and entrepreneurship. In the political pillar, MEPI champions an expanded public space where democratic voices can be heard in the political process, the people have a choice in governance, and there is respect for the rule of law. In the education pillar, MEPI supports education systems that enable all people, including girls, to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in today's economy and improve the quality of their lives. Finally, in the women's pillar, MEPI works toward economic, political, and educational systems where women enjoy full and equal opportunities.
Among the hallmark activities being conducted under the auspices of MEPI are the launch of the Middle East Entrepreneurship Training in the U.S. (economic pillar); creation of a Middle East Justice Institute and Regional Campaign Schools for women candidates (political pillar); "Partnership Schools" that offer creative, innovative alternatives for quality and relevant education for children and serve as models for governments as they build schools in the future (education pillar); and regional micro-enterprise and business internships for women (women's pillar).
To date, the administration has committed almost $293 million to MEPI over four fiscal years. This MEPI funding is in addition to the bilateral economic assistance we provide annually to the Middle East.
Who heads MEPI? Liz Cheney, daughter of Dick Cheney. Brookings Institute has an article from 2004 discussing, besides policy recommendations a breakdown of the money spent.
MEPI was headed at its inception by then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (and vice-presidential daughter) Liz Cheney, giving it high-level political clout to back up its muscular focus on democracy. It rapidly gathered resources and personnel: Its initial allocation of $29 million in State Department funds was increased by $100 million in the emergency war-related supplemental appropriation bill passed in March 2003, and the Bush administration requested an additional $145 million for the program in the FY 2004 budget. The House Appropriations Committee, however, reduced the new funding to $45 million, citing concerns about duplication of existing aid programs and noting that MEPI was "defined only in the most general terms."5 Nonetheless, MEPI collected staff from across the foreign service and opened field offices in Tunis and Abu Dhabi.
In all, MEPI has about $150 million to spend in FY 2004—which sounds like much but is actually only about 58 cents for each man, woman, and child in the Arab world. MEPI's innovation, though, was not meant to be in the size of its budget but in its approach—explicitly political, designed to promote democratic change, and directed to reach out to nongovernmental actors within Arab society. Sadly, the evidence suggests that, in practice, MEPI shuns the Arab nongovernmental sector and many of mepi's programs have only a tenuous link to democracy.
A brief examination of MEPI's spending priorities highlights the problem. In its first 15 months of operation, the Middle East Partnership Initiative allocated, according to its public website, about $98 million in funds. The vast majority of MEPI's funds, over 70 percent, was allocated to programs that either directly benefited Arab governments (in activities ranging from translating documents to computerizing court records to revising school curricula) or provided training programs and seminars for Arab government officials. Seventeen percent of the allocated funds benefited either American or Arab nongovernmental organizations working in the region, and 5.2 percent went to build the Arab private sector and promote U.S.-Arab business ties. Only $3.2 million, or 3.3 percent of MEPI's money, was directed to help local NGOs expand their work in areas such as family law and anti-corruption campaigns. To a large degree, this weak focus on the Arab nonprofit sector is the result of MEPI's working within, and not pushing, the bounds set by Arab governments: NGOs are tightly restricted in most Arab countries, and in many states they are barred from receiving foreign funding. MEPI cannot possibly expect to advance the development of Arab civil society, as it claims, by granting disproportionate support to already overbearing government bureaucracies.
One other point from this article that is interesting. Note that MEPI is not a democratic institution, encouraging freedom of speech.
Moreover, the bureaucratic imperative to justify program funding to Congress has sometimes led MEPI to emphasize publicity-friendly projects over low-profile but more long-term efforts to build the organizational capacity of the Arab reform movement. A sobering story of what we are currently doing wrong in this regard emerged from a MEPI-sponsored "Gulf Regional Campaign School" held in Qatar this winter. Not satisfied with gathering several dozen women activists to discuss running for political office, MEPI wanted to conclude the seminar with a press conference to advertise its success. But when the Arab participants drafted a final communiqué for the press conference that included mild criticisms of U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a MEPI representative compelled a last-minute change in the schedule, ensuring that the women were not in attendance at the right time to present their communiqué.
Given that MEPI's stated goal is to work with Arab countries (albeit that the money apparently, according to the Brookings article above, is funneled most often to governments as opposed to people on the street, we next query what the education program does. We read, on Raed in the Middle's blog, that, in his opinion, Lynn Cheney, through MEPI, is planning to rewrite the curriculum, patterned on Bush's political views. MEPI, in fact, is focusing on curriculum. He further says that the books that are translated into Arab, as in "My Arabic Library" are actually English textbooks-which ones and what are they espousing?
But there are things that we can do with our programs and with our developmental assistance money. Teacher training, we have discovered from long experiences, is just as important as a modernized curriculum. When push comes to shove, and kids are in the classroom, they are with a teacher, and if the teacher is well trained, has those commitments to tolerance and human rights and all of the principles that we certainly agree with, you are going to have education at the high caliber that we would like.
USAID has been working with teacher training in a number of schools throughout the region, in fact, globally, but we also have a number of projects working with local educators for curriculum design and curriculum development. We are working very closely with MEPI to ensure that these kinds of projects get focused attention.
On the economic-development front, I heard originally that, and you mentioned it with the experience with the states of the former Soviet Union, particularly Eastern Europe, on this private-investment and trade-promotion effort, other than the technical assistance, I once heard you were thinking of creating for this Middle East Partnership Initiative a separate sort of board that would filter through different programs. These would be private sector people who had no interest economically in the programs but who had some experience with new enterprises and where the investments would make the most sense
MEPI will also take advantage of opportunities to partner with both the private sector, host countries, especially in the Gulf, and other foreign aid donors, where appropriate.
We will engage the U.S. domestic private sector as both reform advocates and implementation partners. MEPI will partner with the private sector (businesses and NGOs), public sector (other USG agencies and host countries) and other international donor organizations as appropriate
There's an interesting side note about Lynn Cheney and her irreverence for history on the History Channel site entitled "The Reason Lynn Cheney had 300,000 History Booklets Destroyed".
Like other aspects of recent history that the Bush administration wants the public to forget, Vice President Cheney's wife Lynne has gotten the government to stuff this booklet down the memory-hole. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Department of Education destroyed more than 300,000 copies of this pamphlet after Cheney's office complained that it mentioned the National Standards for United States History, a controversial set of teaching guidelines developed ten years ago at UCLA. However, a version of the booklet with these references expunged is available at the Department of Education's homepage.
As is the case with so much of today's politics, a little history lesson is in order. Lynne Cheney was the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the administration of George H.W. Bush. In that capacity she actually championed the creation of national standards for teaching history, and helped fund this project.
However, after the release of the final version of the standards, Cheney changed her mind. As the Times explains, at that time she argued "that the standards were not positive enough about America's achievements and paid too little attention to figures such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, Paul Revere and Thomas Edison. At one point in the initial controversy, Cheney denounced the standards as 'politicized history.' "
The Times goes on to explain that even though Mrs. Cheney's office helped in the development of the booklet, Education Department staff added references to the standards after her office had reviewed an initial draft.
The cost of the junked booklets, $110,360, is certainly one reason to be disturbed by this decision. And, of course, the failure to include any mention of the standards in the new version of the booklet is undoubtedly an act of political censorship. (References to many of Mrs. Cheney's works on history education remain in the guide.)
Knowing that she destroyed what, according to the rest of the article, was a very good booklet, on the basis of idealogy and knowing that a certain percentage of MEPI is being used with books, we would like to know more about where the US texts came from that are being translated and if there are US companies are other with contracts to supply this info?
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