Members of Congress are warning Egypt not to take U.S. funds for granted if it continues to escalate its plans to prosecute nongovernmental workers accused of illegally operating democracy programs and stirring unrest.
Many lawmakers thought the worst crisis in relations between Washington and Cairo in three decades was beginning to abate after seven American pro-democracy workers—including the International Republican Institute’s Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood—were allowed to leave the country last month. Their U.S.-funded institutions paid $5 million to lift the travel ban against them.
But things took a turn for the worse just days after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on March 23 waived the new congressional restrictions on $1.3 billion in military aid to Cairo, which required her to certify that Egypt supports the democratic transition and is protecting basic human rights. As first reported by National Journal, Egypt is now requesting that Interpol issue worldwide notices seeking the arrest of other personnel—including 10 Americans—from IRI, National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, and International Center for Journalists. Egypt considers these personnel to be “fugitives” because they were not in the country when the case began.
“[Egypt] can’t play these games with the NGOs and expect to get the kind of support it needs from the United States and the community of nations,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., told National Journal Daily.
Washington has “a lot of patience” for the country’s volatility as it transitions from the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak, Kerry continued. “But, ultimately, they need to know it’s not in their interests to go down this road. We will have to work with the new Egyptian government to determine what kind of assistance is appropriate going forward, and while we want to help for a ton of reasons, nothing can be taken for granted.”
Kerry appears to be hardening his tone after telling NJ Daily on March 27 that he supported Clinton’s decision to allow the aid to flow because “suddenly pulling the rug out from under” U.S. assistance would harm Egypt’s ability to stage a robust economic recovery and guarantee a breach in Washington’s relationship with Cairo.
Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., ranking member of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, told NJ Daily she supports the Obama administration’s effort to persuade Interpol to dismiss Egypt’s request for the global arrest notices as “politically motivated.”
The United States is not obligated to arrest anyone subject to these so-called red notices, but suspects are likely to be arrested if they travel abroad. A red notice is often viewed as a precursor to filing extradition papers.
Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, has blasted Clinton’s decision to waive the conditions he authored, saying it sends Cairo a “contradictory message.”
Despite the waiver, the military funds have not yet been disbursed to Cairo—and Egypt’s latest actions are likely to complicate the State Department’s upcoming consultations with a concerned Congress. Already, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., has said that the United States should delay providing the aid until after Egypt’s presidential elections in late May.
As lawmakers work on next year’s foreign-aid bill, they must decide whether to reinstate or even toughen the human-rights conditions on the Egypt aid—or whether to include the waiver option for the administration.
Some have already toed a tough line. Leahy has warned that if Cairo’s behavior does not change, “I’m not putting money [for Egypt] in the foreign-aid bill next year.”
This article appears in the April 16, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.