Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ex-officials urge Obama to suspend aid to Egypt

Laura Rozen
January 29, 2011

A bipartisan group of former U.S. officials and foreign policy scholars is urging the Obama administration to suspend all economic and military aid to Egypt until the government agrees to carry out early elections and to suspend Egypt’s draconian state of emergency, which has been in place for decades.

“We are paying the price for the fact that the administration has been at least of two minds on this stuff, and we should have seen it coming,” said Robert Kagan, co-chair of the bipartisan Egypt working group, regarding what many analysts now say is the inevitable end of Hosni Mubarak's thirty year reign as Egypt's president.

Though the Obama administration has tried to look like it’s not picking sides in urging restraint from violence amid five days of Egyptian unrest calling for Mubarak to step down, “the U.S. can’t be seen as neutral when it’s giving a billion and a half dollars” to prop up the Mubarak regime, Kagan said.

“Only free and fair elections provide the prospect for a peaceful transfer of power to a government recognized as legitimate by the Egyptian people,” the Egypt working group called in a statement Saturday. Other members include co-chair and former U.S. official Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former Bush NSC official Elliott Abrams, Human Rights Watch's Tom Malinowski, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Robert Satloff, and the Center for American Progress's Brian Katulis.

The group pressed the Obama administration Saturday to call for free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt as soon as possible; for the amending of Egypt’s constitution to allow currently banned opposition candidates to run; and to immediately lift the state of emergency, release political prisoners and allow for freedom of the media and assembly.

It also said that the U.S. administration should declare that Mubarak has agreed not to run in the next elections.

“I think Mubarak has a week at most left in office,” Andrew Albertson, formerly with the Project on Middle East Democracy and the working group, told POLITICO Saturday. “He’s ultimately done. Either he flees fast, or there’s a transition to [newly appointed Vice President Omar] Suleiman, or the protests continue. Meanwhile, people are becoming incredibly angry with the U.S.," which is perceived, Albertson said, to be propping up Mubarak.

“Given the situation we are now finding ourselves in, President Obama needs to say, 'Hosni Mubarak should go,'” Albertson continued. “That's what's needed to save the [U.S.] relationship with the Egyptian people.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, not a member of the working group, also argued Saturday that Obama would soon have to tell Mubarak to go, ideally after a transition plan has been worked out.

"At this point, facing by far the biggest foreign policy crisis of his presidency, Obama cannot afford to backtrack," Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, wrote on Saturday. "He will soon have to decide whether to tell Mubarak that the United States no longer supports him and that it's time for him to go."

Washington Egypt hands suggested there was tension inside the Obama administration -- which met for three hours Saturday on the Egypt crisis -- between those advocating the U.S. maintain a “cautious” policy of hedging its bets for now that Mubarak might stay on, and those who see that his departure is inevitable. They also said that some members of the administration were influenced by Israel’s concern at losing a reliable peace partner.

“There’s no fight,” one U.S. official involved in the discussions said Saturday. But "there’s a lot at stake.”


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