House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) will bring
two top national security officials to Capitol Hill next week to testify on the
administration's policy concerning Egypt, and its implications for the
escalating crisis there.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy will testify next
Thursday before the GOP-led committee. But before Ros-Lehtinen hears from the
administration officials, she will first call upon two former Republican
officials for their take on the upheaval in Egypt: Former NSC Middle East
senior director Elliott Abrams and Lorne Craner, a former assistant secretary of State for democracy,
human rights, and labor during President George W. Bush's first term. Craner is
now president of the International Republican Institute.
Ros-Lehtinen, who has already
pledged to examine cutting aid to countries that don't support U.S. interests, called
this week for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to go further than his promise
not to run for president again in September.
"Continuing with the existing timeline for elections
is not going to help stabilize the situation in Egypt. It will only embolden
the extremist elements and frustrate the Egyptian people, who seek peaceful,
legitimate, democratic change," read a statement she released on Feb. 1.
"Far-off promises of change won't cut it after decades of waiting for political
and economic reforms."
But Ros-Lehtinen might also use the hearings to publicize the argument that certain
elements of the Egyptian opposition, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, might have
be excluded from the new process.
"Further, opposition leaders must categorically reject the involvement of
extremist elements who are trying to use this crisis to gain power, hijack
Egypt's future, and seriously damage Egypt's relationship with the United
States, Israel, and others," she said.
On Jan. 29, Ros-Lehtinen set out what she sees as
the standards by which the Obama administration should judge opposition groups.
"The U.S. should learn from past mistakes and
support a process which only includes candidates who meet basic standards for
leaders of responsible nations: Candidates who have publicly renounced
terrorism, uphold the rule of law, recognize Egypt's international commitments
including its nonproliferation obligations and its peace agreement with the
Jewish State of Israel, and who ensure security and peace with its neighbors," she
said in a statement.
When the Hisham Mubarak Law Center in Cairo was raided by state
security forces on Thursday, Human Rights Watch researcher Daniel Williams was swept up in the arrests. But before he was
carted off to prison, Williams had the presence of mind to call a friend in
Cairo and leave his cell phone line open, to broadcast the raid as it unfolded.
Center is a hub and meeting space for various human rights and civil society
groups in Egypt and has been amazingly active since the protests began Jan. 25.
On Thursday morning, a joint squad of police and military personnel in their
respective uniformsraided the
Center, interrogated all inside, and forcibly transported dozens of Egyptians
and foreigners alike to an unknown detention facility, where Williams remains
cell phone was confiscated, the person on the other end of the line, who must
remain anonymous for his own safety, heard the violent details of the incident.
Police and army personnel were heard ordering the activists up against the wall,
started yelling at them, and then claimed they were there to protect them from
the pro-regime thugs who were assembled and chanting just outside the doors and
who harassed the activists as they were escorted from the building.
"We could let you go out in the crowd and they will
kill you or you can come with us," the police and army personnel said,
according to Human Rights Watch Washington Director Tom Malinowski, who has been working furiously to try to free
Williams and the others arrested in Thursday's crackdown by coordinating
efforts with administration officials and human rights groups in Washington and
on-site interrogations, the police and army personnel accused all the Egyptians
working at the Law Center of being affiliated with Hamas and accused all the
foreigners at the Center of being affiliated with Israeli intelligence service
it's a Hamas-Mossad conspiracy apparently," Malinowski told The Cablewith a sigh.
Meanwhile, human rights groups in Washington have
been working closely though a stream of emails and phone callwith the Obama administration to share
information, coordinate action, and press the Mubarak regime to halt the
arrests and release the imprisoned activists and journalists.
Primarily, this effort by the administration is run
out of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where Ambassador Margaret Scobey has taken the lead on maintaining ties to Egyptian
non-governmental organizations and political opposition groups, instructing her
staff toreach out to them to make
sure they are safe and sharing information about what's going on. There are
also officials in the State Department and the National Security Council who
have longstanding ties with these groups and are working the phones on a constant
basis, an administration official said, declining to provide details of those
"The Obama administration has raised with the
Egyptian government the need to release people who have been detained for
peaceful activism or journalism," Malinowski said. The list
of foreign journalists reported to be under arrest is changing moment to
For those in the human rights community who have
been watching the crisis in Egypt descend into violence, the regime is clearly
"What we've seen in the last 24 hours is a counter
attack by the ruling party and security apparatus of Egypt, which may be
willing to concede Mubarak but isn't willing to concede the dictatorship," said
Malinowski. "These thugs are part of the ruling party's army, they deploy it
routinely on election days to intimidate voters and they deployed it yesterday
direct involvement of the Egyptian military in the raids is unsettling because
until yesterday, the military had been largely neutral in the clashes between
the pro-Mubarak and anti-regime groups. But it's not known if they are totally
complicit in the crackdown or if they are participating in order to prevent the
police from becoming too brutal.
The Obama administration is working hard behind the
scenes, especially through senior defense officials including Defense Secretary
Robert Gates, to impress upon the
Egyptian military the need to protect protestors and support a peaceful
government transition. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen spoke Wednesday
with Egyptian Army Lt. Gen. Sami Enan about the clashes and
the military's role.
"He assures me that they're very focused on this, and they will continue to
be a stabilizing influence within their country," Mullen said after the call. "So
far, the Egyptian military have handled themselves exceptionally well."
But in light of the raid on the Law Center, human
rights activists are no longer sure the military is neutral.
"The military's stance toward yesterday's
counterattack is ambiguous," Malinowski said. "But as bad as things are, they
would be worse if not for the pressure the administration has been putting on
Meanwhile, the Egypt Working Group, a bipartisan
team of experts that has been advising the administration, issued a new
statement on Thursday calling on the White House to make clear that military
aid to Egypt will be suspended if the military fails to protect peaceful
protests and the transition doesn't start promptly -- as the administration has
For those who are working to secure the safety of
activists like Williams, how the Egyptian military acts during these crackdowns
will expose what their true motivations are going forward.
"This is an important part of the larger picture
that the administration is looking at. It's one test of whether the regime,
which includes the military, is in fact heeding President Obama's call for
transition to orderly democracy."