CAIRO: Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called on President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to find balance between security and Stability domestically.
“President Sisi should seize this opportunity to move forward on long-needed democratic reforms, and the U.S. can play an important role in that effort,” she said in the U.S. House’ subcommittee hearing titled Egypt two years after Morsi Wednesday.
“Since the 2011 revolution the change we’d hoped to see for Egypt has been slow to come, to say the least. For many of us, myself included, we believe that human right is a top priority that must be taken into account, as we formulate our foreign policy objective; we want to see people living in free democratic and open societies where everyone can practice, without fear, their religion and where everyone is treated equally and fairly,” she continued.
The hearing comes five days after former President Mohamed Morsi and 105 others were sentenced to death over charges of prison break during the January 25 uprising.
The mass death sentences were condemned by a U.S. Department of State official, quoted by Reuters “we are deeply concerned by yet another mass death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to more than 100 defendants, including former President Morsi.”
The international community launched a barrage of criticism of the mass death sentences; a slam rejected by Egypt.
“We also understand there could be no economic prosperity, no political stability without safety and security,” she continued.
Challenge of Sinai
Ros-Lehtinen said that the resumption of transferring the U.S. weapon sales to Egypt is important to combat “terror acts” in Sinai.
“The time could not be more important as we resume these weapon sales. It is in our national security interests to see these terror threats are eliminated and that Egypt remains a strategic ally and continues to have a good working relationship with Israel,” she added.
“Egypt has also been vital in cutting off and destroying the tunnels in Gaza used by Hamas and has been working closely with Israel to combat their shared dreads,” she continued.
Since October 2014, following an attack that killed 30 military personnel, Egypt has launched a military campaign in Sinai and destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels beneath its border with Gaza by establishing a buffer zone.
“Right now Egypt is facing stress from the Sinai and along its borders with Libya and Cairo plays an important role as counterbalance to the Iranian regime’s hegemonic ambition in the region,” she continued.
Parliamentary elections and NGOs
“It is important to know that the elections for the sake of elections are not the only requirement for democracy,” Ros-Lehtinen said, calling for the respect of the citizens’ rights.
She described the delay of the parliamentary elections, which were postponed by the Constitutional Court on May 1 for the unconstitutionality of their law, as “a major setback in Egypt’s path to democracy.”
“We should also need to look to examine the controversial laws against civil society like the NGO law and the protest law. As much as the Egyptian people appreciate safety, security and economic growth after the recent instability, they are also seeking far-reaching changes to the political process and peoples’ relationship with the state,” the congressperson said.
She expressed her concerns about the NGOs law of Egypt criticized by many civil societies, particularly for the 43 NGOs workers, whom were sentenced to 1-5 years in prison in June 2013.
Ros-Lehtinen called President Sisi to pardon the convicted workers as a sign of “his willing to move Egypt forward in a positive direction and could improve U.S. –Egypt bilateral relationship.”
Russia, the new ally
Ros-Lehtinen warned of losing Egypt as a “strategic ally” after Cairo came close to Russia when the U.S. military aid was partially suspended.
“We cannot afford to allow [President Vladimir] Putin to undermine our ties with Egypt. It would be a serious blow to our international security interests,” she said, however, “it is also important that we take issue with Cairo’s lack of progress on the domestic front.”
Following the dispersal of pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins of Rabaa and Nahda squares in August 2013, the U.S.-Egyptian relations soured when the U.S. military aid was cut.
President Sisi, when he was Minister of Defense in November 2013, visited Russia and signed military accords. The relations with Russia have been enhanced in February 2014 when both countries reached a number of deals including building Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.
“Recently, Egypt has taken moves that signaled that it is willing to move away from the U.S. to the closer relationships with Russia,” Ros-Lehtinen said.