Dear Mr. President,
The United States has an important relationship with a foreign
country that permits its territory to be used for the purpose of
smuggling lethal and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to groups
designated as terrorists by our State Department.
This same country has repeatedly promised your predecessors that it
will introduce multi-party democracy, but instead has cracked down on
democrats and reformers. Meanwhile, it grants free rein to Islamist
groups in tightly controlled and manipulated elections.
This same country has played a leading role in blocking American
efforts to end the genocide being perpetrated in the embattled Darfur
region in the Sudan.
This government has permitted its state-controlled media to disseminate anti-Semitic tracts and propaganda.
It has also permitted perennial discrimination against Christians, its largest minority population.
Yet, we continue to regard this country as an ally and grant it the
second highest amount of American foreign aid (after Israel), totaling
presently $2.1 billion annually, including a $1.3 billion subvention in
Mr. President, the country in question is Egypt.
Smuggling from Egypt to Gaza
In August 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, a
territory that borders Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Since that time,
security control of the Gaza/Egypt border has steadily deteriorated.
Weapons, explosives, and extremists have traveled back and forth in
subterranean tunnels that begin in Sinai and empty out in southern
Gaza. The results have been disastrous. The Hamas terrorist
organization, which took control of Gaza by force in June 2007, has
added innumerable sophisticated weapons to its arsenal in preparation
for a conflict with Israel.
Concerned over ceding a vital aspect of its security, Israel
recently permitted Egypt for the first time since its 1979 peace treaty
to station an additional 750 troops along the border to enable it to
deal with the infiltration of men and materiel into Gaza. Yet the
smuggling only increased.
In January 2006, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel's Internal
Security Services, informed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee that, "The amount of weapons and explosives smuggled into the
Gaza Strip from Egypt has grown drastically, by more than 300 percent."
In 2006 alone, Israel captured over 100 Palestinian terrorists who
tried to infiltrate Israel from Sinai, despite the stationing of the
extra Egyptian forces. The former chairman of the Knesset Foreign
Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuval Steinitz, said in January 2007,
"Egypt is not acting like Jordan, which liquidates the smuggling
networks and prevents quantities of arms from reaching the border."
Egypt not only refuses to secure the border area, but it rejected a
proposal for an international force to do the job. As a result, Hamas
continues to build a deadly arsenal, leading analysts to believe that
the next Hamas-Israeli battle will be a bloody one.
In Egypt's 2005 presidential elections, President Husni Mubarak
returned to power with an overwhelming majority because his competitors
were permitted neither the legal right nor resources (financing, media
access, etc.) to campaign against him. Both independent international
observers and local election monitors were banned. It is estimated that
as many as 15 million voters were automatically disenfranchised by a
law requiring their registration two months before the election was
even called. Moreover, in the lead-up to the election, crackdowns on
opposition candidates and parties were routine.
Meanwhile, in parliamentary elections, the Islamist Muslim
Brotherhood was allowed to contest and even win a limited number of
seats. While this may appear contradictory, it is now clear that
Mubarak seeks to persuade the West that a dangerous Islamist opposition
waits in the wings. Indeed, by permitting the limited empowerment of
the Muslim Brotherhood, he seeks to deter the West from applying
pressure on Cairo for reform.
The repression in Egypt is blatant. In 2006, hundreds of Egyptians
were arrested for demonstrating in favor of judges who had denounced
the rigging of recent parliamentary elections. Mubarak subsequently
cancelled local elections scheduled for later that year. Elections in
2007 for the upper house, the Shura Council, were marred by episodes of
voter intimidation. Also that year, Alaa Seif al-Islam, a prominent
blogger, was jailed for six weeks on charges of insulting the
president, while another blogger, Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, was
sentenced to four years in prison for crimes of expression, including
"spreading information disruptive of public order and damaging to the
country's reputation," "incitement to hate Islam," and "defaming the
president." Meanwhile, Mubarak's presidential challenger in 2005, Ayman
Nour, previously released from prison thanks to American pressure, was
re-jailed for allegedly falsifying petitions to run in the presidential
Blocking Justice in Darfur
Since reports of genocide emerged from Sudan's Darfur region, the
Egyptian government has been one of Sudan's most reliable neighbors
working assiduously to forestall international diplomatic and military
intervention to stop the slaughter orchestrated by Sudanese President
In 2005, a proposed handover to the United Nations of African Union
(AU) peacekeeping functions was roundly opposed by Sudan. Egypt
prominently backed this position, raising the specter of an
Arab/African split within the AU. This led the AU to reconsider handing
over authority. Egypt thus frustrated efforts that would have led to
NATO countries contributing substantial forces and infrastructure
unavailable to the AU peacekeepers to stop the killing.
In 2006, Egypt played a leading role in blocking the adoption of an
American-supported United Nations Security Council initiative to double
the size of the African peacekeeping forces and enlarging the role of
NATO. In 2007, it also opposed stronger American sanctions against the
Sudanese government, as well as U.S. efforts to internationalize those
sanctions through the United Nations Security Council.
Promoting Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism
Since 1979, Washington has financially underwritten the
Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which it hoped would serve as a model
for the region. It is now only a cold peace. The Mubarak government has
nurtured and inflamed a hatred of Israel and the Jewish people among
the Egyptian public.
In 1997, Cairo permitted publication of a popular commentary on the
Quran that promotes hatred of Christians and Jews and exhorts Muslims,
adult and child alike, to take up arms and fight them. Egyptian
journalist Asma Nassar opined that, "The expected consequence of this
[book] is that, in the future, thousands of young children will be
willing to blow themselves up [in terrorist operations] against
Vicious anti-Semitic content can be found across the
government-controlled Egyptian media. For example, Egyptian television
produced in 2002-2003 a 40-part series, "Rider Without a Horse,"
dramatizing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The program
depicts Jews murdering a gentile child to use his blood in the making
of Passover matzah. The Mubarak government refused to ban the series.
Egyptian society's hostility to Israel is reflected in the success
of a popular song entitled, "I Hate Israel," as well as numerous
anti-Semitic political cartoons. A 2006 poll found that 92 percent of
Egyptians regard Israel as an enemy nation, as opposed to a mere 2
percent who regard it as a friend. Similarly, more than 50 percent of
Egyptians regard the United States as an enemy.
Repression of Christians
The Coptic Christians, Egypt's largest minority (about 11 million
people), have been the victims of more than 40 organized attacks during
the Mubarak era, including large-scale attacks in Alexandria in 2005.
In April 2006, during Easter week in Alexandria, knife-wielding
Muslims attacked worshippers at several churches. Attacks on Coptic
Christians in the town of Zeitoun also occurred this year. In all
cases, the Egyptian authorities failed to provide Christians with
In Egypt, restrictive laws apply to Christians in areas such as
housing, external appearance, performance of their religious rituals,
and even upkeep of their churches. As a result, many of them have
lapsed into disrepair.
Toward a New Egypt Policy
Mr. President, there is a real need for crafting a policy toward
Egypt that achieves and furthers America's goals and interests.
Thankfully, the prospects for eliciting favorable change in Egypt are
For example, in 2003, after the Bush Administration applied
diplomatic pressure and withheld $130 million in supplemental aid to
Cairo, President Mubarak released leading Egyptian human rights
activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled a visit to
Cairo to protest the regime's arrest of another such activist, Ayman
Nour. This decision is believed to have played a part in securing
Sustained pressure of this type could still achieve further
improvements. Economic and military aid to Cairo must be withheld and
remain conditional on specific changes in Egyptian conduct:
1. Your administration should make the continuation of military aid
to Egypt conditional on sustained Egyptian military and intelligence
action to put an end to the arming of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad,
and other terror groups based in the Gaza Strip. Failure to do so
permits these groups to wage a terror war that stymies
Palestinian-Israeli peace. Intermittent Egyptian actions or gestures to
placate Washington are unacceptable.
2. Your administration should also make the continuation of future
military aid to Cairo contingent upon Egypt terminating its spoiling
role over Darfur.
3. Washington should make the problem of incitement to hatred of
Jews, the State of Israel, and the United States in Egypt's
state-controlled media a permanent agenda item in bilateral relations
until positive change is achieved. Bipartisan legislation should be
introduced in Congress to examine and report periodically on Egyptian
compliance. Failure to comply should result in the withholding of
4. Continuation of aid to Cairo should also be conditional on
verifiable improvements in the freedoms and protection of Egyptian
Copts, democrats, and human rights activists. Your administration might
consider compiling a list of these individuals, and then fight
vigorously for their freedom, just as the U.S. championed such
activists in the Soviet Union.
Washington should also insist on verifiable information
demonstrating that attacks and persecution against Copts have been
properly investigated and that their rights are upheld under law.
5. Finally, your administration should encourage a process of
gradual democratization in Egypt that places less emphasis on the
promotion of democratic processes, such as elections, constitutions, or
referenda. Rather, more emphasis should be placed on democratic
purposes, such as civil society, rule of law, and political and
To promote democratic processes in societies with no democratic
conditions is to ensure the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood, the
danger of which Cairo continually warns. Perhaps a more realistic
near-term goal is to pressure Cairo into legalizing secular political
groupings and permitting a freer, more liberal press.
In taking these steps, Mr. President, Egypt may yet play an
important role in bringing about a more progressive and secure Middle