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US Senators Voice Hopes, Concerns on Egypt Transition

  • Michael Bowman

Supporters of Egyptian President-elect Mohamed Morsi rally in front of a banner rejecting recent military edicts at Tahrir square in Cairo, June 26, 2012.

Supporters of Egyptian President-elect Mohamed Morsi rally in front of a banner rejecting recent military edicts at Tahrir square in Cairo, June 26, 2012.

CAPITOL HILL - U.S. lawmakers are expressing hopes and concerns about Egypt as Islamist President-elect Mohamed Morsi prepares to take office.

U.S. senators are closely monitoring Egypt’s political transition, including California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“This new Egyptian government can go either way. It can open to the ideas of others," said Feinstein. "It can work to develop a vibrant economy for the people, jobs for this very young country with so many young people. Or it can turn inward into Sharia law and a much more fundamentalist Muslim country. And that is the worry.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“Everyone has concerns. But I will be traveling there [to Egypt] in the next couple of months, and I look forward to sitting down with the new president," said Corker.

"The presidency - a lot of the powers that normally would reside there have been taken away," Corker added. "The military is the main entity there now, and I have concerns about that. Certainly, all of us want to see them move to a real democracy.”

For decades, Egypt has been a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid, which Congress must approve each year. That aid might be subjected to heightened scrutiny in the months ahead, according to Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.

“Egypt is very important to the United States," he said. "We have a large footprint in Egypt. It is the largest Arab country in the world and it allows us, as a platform, to do a lot of our important international work."

"Our objectives are pretty clear. We want a partner that will help fight extremists, a partner that will continue with peace in the Middle East, and will move the country forward on democratic reform - particularly protecting the rights of its citizens," Corker added. "That is our objective. And we have a responsibility to the [U.S.] taxpayers to make sure our funds are used appropriately. We also have a responsibility to America’s national security interests to pursue Egypt as a partner in our objectives.”

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, voiced his apprehensions about the Muslim Brotherhood to which Mohamed Morsi belonged prior to his electoral victory. Lugar said it is important that longstanding ties between Washington and Cairo be maintained under a Morsi administration.

“Our expectation is that he will respect human rights, the democratic process, and work carefully [with the United States] - as opposed to being an adversarial figure,” Lugar said.

That view was echoed by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “I just hope that he [Mohamed Morsi] will turn out to be someone who helps his country follow a moderate course of trying to work together with neighbors and trying to deal with any extreme elements in his own society that could create problems for his country,” said Levin.

Senator Feinstein said the stakes are high, and not only for Egypt. She said "what Egypt does with respect to Israel is important. Israel’s right to exist is important. A two-state solution is important. Diplomatic relations [between Egypt and Israel] are important. Whether that is all severed or not is unknown to most of us.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and President-elect Morsi spoke by telephone on Sunday, affirming a mutual commitment to advance U.S.-Egyptian ties. Mr. Morsi says Egypt will abide by its international obligations - including its treaty with Israel as long as Israel does the same.
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