ABC News’ John R. Parkinson reports:
After Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reportedly stepped down today and relinquished power to the Egyptian military, members of Congress praised the protestors in Egypt for their persistence, but the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee warns against the potential for extremists to “exploit and hijack” the middle eastern country in the forthcoming transition to a new civilian government.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, applauded Mubarak’s decision to hand over power to the military, admitting it is appropriate for the Egyptian military to play a key role in the transition, but she called on the Obama Administration to reject any potential opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists to take power in the new Egyptian government.
“The Egyptian military can continue to play a constructive role in providing for security and stability during this transformational period. The U.S. and our allies must focus our efforts on helping to create the necessary conditions for such a transition to take place,” Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Friday in a statement. “We must also urge the unequivocal rejection of any involvement by the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists who may seek to exploit and hijack these events to gain power, oppress the Egyptian people, and do great harm to Egypt’s relationship with the United States, Israel, and other free nations.”
As Mubarak stepped down, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman announced today that the Egyptian military has taken control of the country's leadership.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signaled in a statement that the world is a better place without Mubarak in charge, and said she continues to closely watch the situation unfold.
“The world has benefitted from the impatience of youth in Egypt; our faith in the future is strengthened by their powerful example. They have demonstrated enormous bravery in demanding the democratic freedoms that will help them achieve their aspirations," Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Today marks progress for the brave people of Egypt, and for those working for universal freedoms around the world. The future of Egypt now belongs to the Egyptian people."
Ros-Lehtinen also called for calm in the months ahead as the country prepares for elections.
“Now that the immediate demands of the Egyptian people have been met, steps must be taken for the prompt commencement of a calm and orderly transition process towards freedom and democracy in Egypt,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “This transition must include constitutional and administrative reforms, starting with the repeal of the emergency laws. These are necessary for legitimate, democratic, internationally-recognized elections to take place with peaceful, responsible actors who will not only advance the aspirations of the Egyptian people, but will continue to enforce Egypt’s international obligations.”
Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called today’s developments an “historic victory” for the Egyptian people, but warned there is still a challenging transition ahead.
“Today’s decision by President Mubarak to step down is a historic victory for the Egyptian people over an authoritarian ruler,” Berman, D-Calif., said in a statement Friday afternoon. “It is not yet a victory for democracy, but it inspires great hope that true Egyptian democracy, once unimaginable, is now on the horizon.”
Berman, the former chairman of the committee, said the United States should use its influence “to encourage a process of change that is orderly and a government whose foreign and security policies support our interests” and said the military should work to hand the power back to a civilian-led transitional government.
“As this change takes hold, we must keep firmly in mind that our goals include an Egypt that supports close relations with the United States; supports the welfare of the Egyptian people, including democracy and universal human rights; is secular in orientation; and, of course, adheres to the peace treaty with Israel,” Berman said. “The democratic transition will happen if, and only if, the military plays a constructive role. Having now taken power, the military should be encouraged to relinquish that power at the earliest practicable time to an empowered, civilian-led transitional government that incorporates a broad spectrum of opposition figures.”
Berman also pressed the Egyptian military to implement reforms demanded by protestors, and called on the Congress to continuing pumping hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid into the region to help the Egyptian military facilitate the transition.
“This transitional government should take the lead in ending emergency rule and introducing the necessary amendments and reforms for the conduct of free and fair elections,” he added. “I believe it is important that our military assistance program continue, so long as the military fulfills its role in bringing about a democratic transition.”
Other members of the House reacted to the developments via Twitter.
House Minority Leader @NancyPelosi tweeted “Young people leading #Egypt towards democracy-their energy changed Egypt, their actions are an inspiration to the world.”
@keithellison, one of two Muslim members of Congress, tweeted “The ppl united will never be defeated. Mubarak is OUT!”
Democratic congressman @Jim_Moran of Virginia tweeted “This is a rare and historic moment.”
@jefffortenberry, the vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee with jurisdiction over Africa, said Mubarak stepping down is “the Right Decision for the Future of Egypt.”
@RepCarnahan of Missouri called it “A positive step, an historic opportunity – and major challenge – for the people of #Egypt.”
@askgeorge, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said that the Egyptian people’s “courage and non-violent movement is truly inspirational.”
@CongJeffMiller: “President Mubarak did the right thing by stepping down as president.”
@MarkeyMemo, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said “I am glad Hosni Mubarak has responded to the demands of the people for democracy.”