“The Egyptian regime needs to know that it cannot dawdle or simply go through the motions of democratic change without any intention of genuinely transitioning to democracy. If delay is its tactic, it will reap a whirlwind at home, and it will leave Congress little choice but to take action.” – Congressman Howard L. Berman
Washington, DC – The following is Congressman Howard L. Berman’s , Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opening statement as prepared for delivery at today’s committee briefing entitled “Recent Developments in Egypt and Lebanon: Implications for U.S. Policy and Allies in the Broader Middle East, Part II”:
Thank you, Madame Chairman.
At yesterday’s hearing, I made a fairly detailed opening statement on the rapidly evolving events in Egypt – as well as developments in Lebanon. Today, I would like to focus on just one aspect – the most immediately relevant aspect – of the democratic transition in Egypt, and that is the issue of when that transition will actually begin.
On February 1, President Obama said that a transition in Egypt must be meaningful, peaceful, and “begin now.” At this point, however, we are still waiting for that beginning. There have been some important announcements – especially, the decisions that neither Hosni Mubarak, nor Gamal Mubarak, nor Omar Suleiman will run for the Presidency in September – but nothing meaningful has actually happened, nothing that could be considered a break with “business as usual,” as seen by the Egyptian regime.
Madame Chairman, the transition needs substance. If current Egyptian leaders are reluctant to give it that substance, then the Administration needs to give it a major push by setting out its own timetables and targets. The transition needs to be orderly – to be sure -- but, foremost, it needs actually to happen. Both the regime and the opposition need to see defining actions so that each begins to make what President Obama called the “psychological break” from the past.
Any number of tangible actions would serve that purpose, whether it be ending the Emergency Law; a decision by President Mubarak to hand over effective power to his vice-president; or a decision by the regime to bring credible opposition members into the government.
This type of concrete action needs to happen for many reasons, but primarily for the benefit of the Egyptian people. The Egyptian regime needs to know that it cannot dawdle or simply go through the motions of democratic change without any intention of genuinely transitioning to democracy. If delay is its tactic, it will reap a whirlwind at home, and it will leave Congress little choice but to take action.
When this crisis broke out, I emphasized that I favored continuing our security assistance program but that the duration of that program depended on whether the military played a constructive role in the democratic transition. That is still my position, but my patience – and that of my colleagues – has limits.
Given the military’s influence over the regime – a regime that was born in the military, and whose entire leadership is composed of military men -- the democratic transition will happen if, and only if, the military does play a constructive role.
Mr. Secretary, I’d like to know when the democratic transition in Egypt will begin, how we will know it has begun, and what our Administration intends to do to make sure that it begins – if not now – then very, very soon.