Saturday, February 04, 2012

Egypt: Patrick Leahy Ties Egyptian NGO Raids To U.S. Aid

SOURCE Office of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt., chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations) is the architect of the new conditions on U.S. military aid to Egypt, which he included in the State Department's budget bill for Fiscal Year 2012. Egyptian military leaders are in Washington today (Friday) for consultations with U.S. defense officials and others. His statement today follows:


(Published Friday, Feb. 3, in the Congressional Record)

Troubling Signs
On Egypt's Path

To Reform

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I would like to draw the Senate's attention to recent developments in Egypt, and I begin by referring to the outburst of violence yesterday by rival soccer fans after a match in that country in which 73 people were reportedly killed and hundreds injured.

This is a shocking tragedy, and I want to express my condolences to the Egyptian people and the families of the victims.

Last week tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to celebrate the one year anniversary of the popular revolution that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak. That courageous and largely peaceful expression of popular will was inspirational to people everywhere, including millions of Americans.

The United States and Egypt share a long history of friendship and cooperation. Thousands of Americans travel and study in Egypt, and over the years we have provided tens of billions of dollars in economic and military aid to Egypt. Our countries share many interests, and it is critically important that we remain friends and allies in that strategically important part of the world during this period of political, economic and social transition.

During the past 12 months, Egypt has been governed by a group of senior military officers, each of whom held positions of leadership and privilege in the repressive and corrupt Mubarak government. To their credit, for the most part they did not attempt to put down the revolution by force, and they pledged to support the people's demand for a democratically elected civilian government that protects fundamental freedoms.

The transition process is a work in progress. On the positive side, two democratic elections have been held and a new Parliament has been seated. On the negative side, civilian protesters have been arrested and prosecuted in military courts that do not protect due process, and in December Egyptian police raided the offices of seven nongovernmental organizations, including four U.S.-based groups whose work for democracy and human rights has for years been hindered by laws and practices that restrict freedom of expression and association. Files and computers were confiscated and some of their employees have been interrogated.

There are also reports that as many as 400 Egyptian nongovernmental organizations are under investigation, allegedly for accepting foreign donations. Apparently, to the thinking of Egypt's military rulers, there is nothing wrong with the Egyptian government receiving billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers, but private Egyptian groups that work for a more democratic, free society on behalf of the Egyptian people, and that cannot survive without outside help, do so at their peril.

Despite repeated assurances from Egyptian authorities that the property seized from these organizations would be promptly returned, that has not happened. To the contrary, the situation has gotten worse as several of their American employees have been ordered to remain in Egypt. Some of them have obtained protection at the U.S. Embassy. With each passing day there are growing concerns that these groups could face criminal charges for operating in the country without permission.

This is a spurious charge, since registration applications were submitted and deemed complete by the government years ago; because the organizations regularly reported to officials on their activities; and since, while registration was pending, they were permitted to operate. Ironically, while the previous regime did not seek to expel them for their pro-democracy work, Egypt's current authorities, whose responsibility it is to defend and support the democratic tradition, are attempting to do just that.

There is abundant misinformation about the work of the American-based organizations, with some Egyptian officials accusing them – without offering any evidence – of trying to subvert Egypt's political process. Without belaboring the point, their work was no secret as they had nothing to hide. They were helping to build the capacity of Egyptian organizations engaged in peaceful work for democracy and human rights, supporting the development of political parties, and working with Egyptian groups to provide non-partisan voter education.

The military argues that since these groups were not registered they were in violation of Egyptian law, but this is a transparently specious excuse for shutting them down. Their repeated applications for registration were neither granted nor denied. The government simply chose to ignore them.

Egyptian officials also insist that this is simply a matter of upholding the rule of law, but the complaint against these organizations was issued by a minister with no direct authority over legal matters, and a negative propaganda campaign was unleashed in the state-controlled media. The conduct of the raids, seizure of the files and computers, interrogation of the employees, and the no-fly order have not been conducted consistent with legal standards but instead seem to be politically motivated. No warrants have been issued, no charging documents made public, and no inventory of seized property made available.

Many suspect that the force behind this crackdown is Minister of International Cooperation, Faiza Aboul Naga, who was described in a Washington Post editorial this week as "a civilian holdover from the Mubarak regime" and "an ambitious demagogue [who] is pursuing a well-worn path in Egyptian politics – whipping up nationalist sentiment against the United States as a way of attacking liberal opponents at home." Given Minister Aboul Naga's recent statements, I strongly believe that no future U.S. Government funds should be provided to or through that ministry as long as she is in charge. As the chair of the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, I am confident there is strong support in Congress for this position.

A related issue is the Egyptian military's continued use of vaguely worded emergency laws to silence dissent. While it is encouraging that the head of the military, General Tantawi, announced plans to lift the 30-year state of emergency, that is only a first step.

Mr. President, as I have mentioned, for decades the United States and Egypt have been friends and allies. While we have differed over issues of democracy and human rights, our two countries have worked together in pursuit of common goals. Our partnership needs to be strengthened and broadened to respond to the interests and aspirations of the Egyptian people themselves. Our longstanding legacy of cooperation with the Egyptian government is now in jeopardy, and it is the interests of both countries that this crisis is promptly and satisfactorily resolved and that we focus instead on moving forward to build an even stronger and enduring relationship.

In December, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2012. Section 7041(a)(1) of division I of that Act provides that prior to the obligation of $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2012 U.S. military aid for Egypt, the Secretary of State shall certify that "the Government of Egypt is supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law."

These unprecedented requirements, which I wrote, were included for two reasons. First, we want to send a clear message to the Egyptian people that we support their demand for democracy and fundamental freedoms. Second, we want to send a clear message to the Egyptian military that the days of blank checks are over. We value the relationship and will provide substantial amounts of aid, but not unconditionally. They must do their part to support the transition to civilian government. If the assault against international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations continues, several of the requirements for certification could not be met.

Egypt has an extraordinary history dating back thousands of years. Anyone who has stood at the base of the pyramids cannot help but be in awe of what that society accomplished centuries before Columbus arrived in America. It is a destination for thousands of American tourists and students each year. It has the potential to be a strong force for democratic change and moderation in the Middle East and North Africa.

I hope the Egyptian authorities fully appreciate the seriousness of this situation and what is at stake. They need to permit these organizations to reopen their offices, return the confiscated property, end investigations of their activities and the activities of Egyptian groups, and register them without conditions so they can continue to support the democratic transition.

I ask unanimous consent that the Washington Post editorial be printed in the Record (editorial, Jan. 31, 2012, "Egypt's witch hunt threatens a rupture with the U.S.").