The PJ Tatler

Dem Senator: Enough is Enough with Egypt; White House: Maybe, Maybe Not

A Democratic senator is urging the reconsideration of Washington’s relationship with Egypt in the wake of the post-Mubarak government’s determination to try 19 Americans on charges of illegally operating democracy-promotion efforts.

One of the Americans detained, along with five others, is Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The raids late last year on foreign-run offices promoting democratic activities come as Egypt is mired in a transitional period between the fall of President Hosni Mubarak and the point at which the interim military rulers are supposed to relinquish power to a civilian, democratically elected government. Egyptians have continued demonstrations in protest of the stalled transition.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-chairman of the Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe, blasted Egypt in a statement this afternoon.

“I find today’s news about the Egyptian government’s decision to prosecute American and local NGO workers totally unacceptable,” Cardin said. “These organizations, which have supported Egyptian citizens’ own struggle for representative democracy and freedom, have been targeted by those in the holdover regime who fear change.

“When I heard that these organizations were not allowed to register, and then had their offices sealed during the course of an ‘investigation’ by the regime, I wrote to the regime leaders urging them to stop this dangerous behavior. Instead, they have escalated, and some of those individuals most committed to Egyptian freedom, including several prominent Americans, are not allowed to leave the country, and are facing criminal charges.

“This is not the way an ally should be treated,” Cardin concluded. “I believe that we should re-evaluate the status of our bilateral relationship during this transition period.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the Egyptian case in today’s briefing, and said that he wouldn’t speculate on what trigger might cause Washington to cut off the $1.5 billion in U.S. aid to Cairo — “except to say that we take this very seriously.”

Carney said talks with the Egyptians were occurring “at every level,” but refused to go into specifics.

“We have said clearly that these actions could have consequences for our relationship including regarding our assistance programs,” Carney said. “So we’ll continue to work with the Egyptians.”

On Jan. 24, the White House issued a statement lauding Egypt for its democratic transition after the first meeting of the People’s Assembly (the largest party within being the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party) since the revolution. “We congratulate the Egyptian people and their government on these important steps toward fulfilling the promise of Egypt’s revolution, which has inspired the world,” said the press secretary’s statement. “The United States will continue to stand with the Egyptian people, and those across the region, as they defend universal values and work toward a better future for all Egyptians.”

I sat down with Cardin in 2010, when he was chairman of the Helsinki Commission and was testing the Obama administration’s Russia reset dreams with bipartisan legislation to revoke visas and slap financial sanctions on Russian officials implicated in the prison death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. In July of last year, the administration revealed it had barred dozens of Russian officials from entering the country over the case. Cardin also hit out at Russia in a separate statement today, saying he was “very disappointed” in Russia’s veto of the Syria resolution at the U.N. Security Council in the face of “unconscionable” escalating violence in the country.