“The intent was to send a very strong message by the Minister of Planning and the [military council] that they are not going to put up with a civil-society regime where organizations can operate freely and without undue restrictions,” Campbell said. “They want to set the terms of civil-society engagement in the transition to democracy.” The result, Campbell says, is a “very high stakes” standoff over the way the U.S. conducts its relationship with Egypt.
The way the administration handles this issue could add to its credibility in Egypt, Campbell said. “The criticism, at least in the world of human-rights and democracy organizations in Egypt, has typically been that the U.S. was very close to Mubarak, close to the generals, and wasn’t very much in touch with the attitudes on the streets,” Campbell said. “If this whole episode means that the U.S. government is more attentive to what Egyptian people are saying … and a little less concerned about temper tantrums by a few people at the top, then that bodes well for the relationship.”
The brewing congressional outcry would make it extremely difficult for the administration to override the aid restrictions with its national-security waiver if the situation doesn’t improve. What’s more, Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., is IRI’s board chairman; also on that board is Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas., head of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 41 lawmakers—including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.-- signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Panetta saying they won’t support certification until “fundamental human rights” are protected in Egypt. Amid the furor, an Egyptian military delegation slated to meet with some of these lawmakers while visiting Washington abruptly canceled at the last minute.
This discussion certainly won’t end any time soon. If there are not changes in the military’s behavior, Leahy warned, “I’m not putting money [for Egypt] in the foreign-aid bill next year.”