In recent days, members of Congress have had plenty of advice to give about how to deal with the popular uprising in Egypt. Many in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, have expressed strong criticism of President Obama’s actions in dealing with the crisis.
How many of these members of Congress have spoken out before? How many of them had anything to say about the underlying problems in Egypt that caused the uprising – before the uprising began?
From both the House and Senate, only two members of Congress had anything at all to say about government abuses. The rest were completely silent on the matter.
In May of 2009, U.S. Representative Frank Wolf warned, “The United States should not continue to give unconditional foreign military financing to the Egyptian government, as long as the regime continues to disregard the fundamental principles of human dignity. This undermines not only our values as a nation, but our credibility as a global leader on issues such as human rights and democracy.”
In May of 2010, Senator Russ Feingold gave a more prescient diagnosis of the human rights problems in Egypt:
“I am very concerned by Egypt’s recent extension of its emergency law–which has been in place continuously since 1981–yet again, for another 2 years. Since 2005, President Hosni Mubarak and his government have repeatedly pledged to end the use of the emergency law, but it continues to be extended. Although some changes were apparently announced with the extension, these were little more than cosmetic and will do nothing to improve the deeply repressive environment this law enables. Emergency laws, if they are ever appropriate, are intended for exceptional circumstances, not continuous application for decades.
Furthermore, numerous concerns have been raised about violations of human rights and civil liberties under Egypt’s emergency law. The extension also comes ahead of parliamentary and Presidential elections, which may see new challenges emerge to the leadership structure… For all these reasons, it is in our interest to continue to pursue a strong working relationship with the Egyptian Government. But it is also in our interest to ensure that relationship is sustainable and strategic over the long-term. To do this, I believe we must engage more broadly with the Egyptian people and support efforts in the country to push for human rights and democratic reform. This is especially important in the coming months as Egypt prepares to hold parliamentary elections, which will be followed next year by a Presidential election. This period could be one of transition, possibly one of tumult. The Obama administration should begin engaging now with the Egyptian government and other stakeholders to make clear that we support a fair, free, and peaceful process. Continuing to provide uncritical support to an authoritarian regime undermines our credibility as champions of political and civil rights and creates tensions, particularly in the Muslim world, which are ripe for exploitation. Those tensions, in turn, threaten our own national security.”
The rest of Congress was silent.