ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle today criticized longstanding U.S. policy over successive American presidents who have stood by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for three decades, despite evidence he suppressed political opposition and was behind numerous human rights abuses in his country. They also criticized the Obama administration for being too slow to embrace the aspirations of the protestors who have called for Mubarak’s ouster.
“In both Egypt and Lebanon we have failed to effectively leverage U.S. assistance in support of peaceful pro-democracy forces and to help build strong accountable, independent and democratic institutions as a bulwark against the instability which is now spreading throughout much of the region. Instead of being proactive we have been obsessed with maintaining short term personality-based stability; stability that was never really all that stable as the events of recent weeks demonstrate,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said at the beginning of a hearing today on the recent instability in those countries.
At least two Democrats also suggested leveraging America’s $1.5 billion aid package to Mubarak to enact reforms the U.S. has called for.
“While we can’t determine Egypt’s future leader, we should use our influence to encourage a process of change that is orderly and a government whose foreign and security policies support our interests,” Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) said.
Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) even called for the Obama administration to cut off aid to Egypt.
“The people yearn to be free. We must plant ourselves firmly on their side. Until there is evidence that a real transition is underway, with the exception of aid for humanitarian needs or with the transition, we need to suspend our aid to Egypt. We simply cannot afford to be viewed in Egypt as the bankrollers of oppression,” he said.
Two of the hearing’s witnesses, former Bush administration official Elliot Abrams and Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute, rejected that suggestion as too hasty. They noted that the aid is a key leverage point and it is worth keeping that arrow in the quiver, yet held over Mubarak’s head.
The congressmen also criticized the Obama administration’s response to the unrest of the past several weeks, which slowly ratcheted up the pressure on Mubarak as it became clearer that the protests were gaining momentum.
“In the early days of the current unrest the administration ailed to seize the opportunity to press for reform to address the demonstrator’s frustrations and prevent chaos and violence,” Ros-Lehtinen said, citing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first comments on the uprising during which she said that the Egyptian government was stable and taking steps to address the people’s concerns.
Several lawmakers also raised concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood, the opposition group which has been banned during Mubarak’s rule but has now been invited to participate in talks on charting a way forward for the country.
“The Muslim Brotherhood had nothing to with driving these protests and they and other extremists must not be allowed to hijack the movement toward democracy and freedom in Egypt,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
“I am skeptical about the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to democracy,” echoed Berman.