Egyptian Presidential Election Opportunity to Renew Strategic Partnership | Commentary

In the coming days, Egypt will elect a new president. This will be a historic moment for the people of Egypt and an important step in the journey that they began more than three years ago, when millions took to the streets to demand change.

The U.S. administration’s response to the events in Egypt that began on June 30, 2013, sent mixed signals to the Egyptian people and to our allies in the region. It is my hope that a free and fair election in Egypt will provide the U.S. government with an opportunity to fully re-engage this critically important strategic partner.

I do not view events in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. As Chairman of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, I assess our relationship with Egypt in these clear terms: Does it advance our national security; is it a good-faith partner for peace with Israel; and will it contribute to the stability of the Middle East? To all three questions, even at this time of a difficult transition, the answer is, “Yes.”

Egypt is trying to emerge from decades of military rule and build a sustainable democracy, all amid a deadly ongoing battle against radical Islamic terrorism. This transition will not be resolved overnight. In the meantime, the United States must remain focused on our long-term interests in the region. I believe our interests will suffer if we fail to support Egypt. This is why I have been persistent in demanding clarity from the Administration about their approach.

As a strategic partner with Egypt, the U.S. can help guide Egypt toward a durable, representative and genuine democracy. But let me be clear: We are not in a position to dictate outcomes. In a region that is on fire with sectarian violence and terrorism, Egypt is one of our country’s few reliable friends. Relationships among intelligence and military leaders go back decades, providing our officials with an invaluable resource in the fight against terrorism. We cannot allow what happened in Pakistan to happen in Egypt, where we ended a critical relationship in the 1990s and sacrificed a generation of close strategic cooperation. When we needed to re-engage with Pakistan after 9/11, we had to start from scratch. Trust, once lost, is not easily regained.

Today, Egypt requires assistance and support to defeat the same terrorists that we have been fighting in Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq. Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri has called for terrorists to kill Egyptian security officials, members of the military, civilians and tourists alike. As a result, hundreds have been killed at the hands of Islamic fanatics in Sinai, Cairo and elsewhere. As jihadi groups and radical terrorism continue to metastasize in ungoverned regions from Libya to Syria to Yemen, we simply cannot allow Egypt to follow the same fate. Given these circumstances, the suspension of assistance to Egypt was not just premature and shortsighted, it was dangerous. I was encouraged when the Administration announced it would release some military aid to Egypt, including the 10 Apache helicopters so central to the fight against terrorism. But this is only a first step.

In less than a year, Egypt drafted and adopted the most progressive Constitution in its history, one that expands individual freedoms, expands protections for women and minorities and creates a new framework for an effective, transparent and accountable government. This constitution was approved by 20 million people in a public referendum. We should not discount such developments. This is progress.

And when a new president takes office and a new parliament is seated, Egypt will have an opportunity to institute reforms via elected representatives that are long overdue. The government must also look at the issues that have hampered our relationship during this period of transition. For example, Egypt should enact laws and support policies that support the role of non-governmental organizations in Egyptian society. A top priority should be to address the convictions of dozens of staff from the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and other non-governmental organizations. These staff now face a life in the shadows of felony convictions for simply doing their jobs — working to promote democracy. Until this issue is resolved for the NGO staff, it will be front and center in my mind. That sentiment is shared from many of my colleagues in Congress.

The U.S.-Egypt relationship was built upon a strong foundation of shared interests. That foundation has endured a turbulent year. Now it is time to refocus on a coherent set of achievable policy objectives, and for both our leaders and Egyptian leaders to acknowledge that we must work together. The stakes are too high to do anything less.

Rep. Kay Granger is a Republican from Texas.

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