The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 20, 2013

Pennsylvania Congressional delegation weighs in on Egypt

From staff and wire reports
The Associated Press

— CAIRO — Jailed ex-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could be released later this week, judicial officials said Monday, a move that would fuel the unrest roiling the country after the autocratic leader’s successor was removed in a military coup.

Underscoring the growing anger over Mohammed Morsi’s ouster, suspected Islamic militants ambushed two minibuses carrying off-duty policemen in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, forcing the men to lie on the sand and shooting 25 of them dead.

The brazen daylight attack raised fears that the strategic desert region bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip could be plunged into insurgency.

The 25 were given a funeral with full military honors after a plane brought their bodies to an air base in eastern Cairo. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police, and the army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Sedki Sobhi, led the funeral.

The coffins of the victims were draped in red, white and black Egyptian flags and, in a show of solidarity, were jointly carried in the funeral procession by army soldiers and policemen. Earlier, relatives and friends wept over the coffins.

“The situation with Egypt is disturbing," U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. R-Pa., said this morning. "We are now seeing a low-grade civil war between the military and the Islamists.

“Earlier this year, the Senate voted to table an amendment cutting off aid to Egypt, thereby postponing its consideration," Toomey said. "I supported this tabling motion as I did not want the United States Senate to be perceived as taking sides.

"The Egyptian military crossed the line last week.  We should stop giving foreign aid to Egypt and its military unless the country moves toward an inclusive democratic system. American taxpayers should not contribute to a military that slaughters civilians in the street.”

The violence in Egypt is deplorable, said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., on Monday afternoon, “and it is imperative that the Egyptian military respect basic human rights, including freedom of peaceful assembly and due process under the law. I support the administration’s recent decision to delay the delivery of F-16 jets to Egypt and the decision to cancel the planned joint military exercise with Egypt.”

In Casey’s view, the United States should re-evaluate and recalibrate the nature of its assistance relationship with Egypt, taking into account the genuine security threats faced by the country, including terrorism in the region, unrest in the Sinai and protection of the Suez Canal.  

“In addition to the current violence in Cairo and through Egypt,” he said, “I have been very concerned about security in the Sinai since January 2011. During a trip to Cairo and Jerusalem in April, I emphasized the issue of security in the Sinai with both Egyptian and Israeli officials.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-10 of Cogan Station, said: “As the political environment in Egypt becomes increasingly tumultuous, the U.S. must continue to evaluate its current policy when it comes to doling out taxpayer dollars. Our priorities in the region are to promote peace, stability and democracy. Not to fund radical, anti-American regimes. The Obama administration’s ‘back-seat’ approach to foreign policy has greatly hindered any position of power we may have had in Egypt, putting our interests at risk.”

Despite the violence, Cairo, a bustling metropolis of some 18 million people, began to restore a sense of normalcy although the capital remained under a state of emergency and a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Daytime traffic was back to its normal congested levels and stores were open. Government employees also returned to work. And the Central Bank ordered banks to extend by one hour their curtailed opening hours effective Tuesday.

During his decades ruling Egypt, Mubarak frequently warned that Egypt would fall into chaos without him at the helm.

The 85-year-old former president has been in detention since April 2011, weeks after he was ousted in a revolution against his rule.

He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in June last year for his failure to stop the killing of some 900 protesters in the 18-day uprising. His sentence was overturned on appeal and he is now being retried, along with his security chief and six top police commanders.

Two judicial officials, however, said there will no longer be any grounds to hold the 85-year-old former president if a court accepts a petition by his lawyer requesting his release in a corruption case later this week.

Many analysts, however, expressed skepticism, saying the political cost of letting the former leader who was widely hated for widespread abuses and repression during his 29 years in power could keep him in jail.

The judiciary officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said a criminal court on Monday ordered Mubarak’s release in a corruption case in which he and his two sons were accused of embezzling funds for the maintenance of presidential palaces. His sons will remain in custody.