Key congressional committee backs Egypt coup

July 5, 2013

An Egyptian man holds a portrait of military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its ranking Democrat have released a joint statement suggesting support for the Egyptian military's July 3 coup against President Mohamed Morsi.

The statement, by Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), argues that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had not pursued "real democracy." It also urges the military to "exercise extreme caution" in moving forward and to "support sound democratic institutions" as it does so. The House Foreign Affairs Committee could play an important role in determining how Congress guides or pressures the Obama administration's response to events in Egypt -- which may itself be a key factor in how the coup-backed government behaves.

Should the Obama administration decide to label what happened in Egypt a coup – something it is under increasing pressure to do – it will probably want to avoid triggering the law that would mandate a cutoff of U.S. aid to Egypt. That requires congressional approval. This statement only represents two members of Congress, but it's an indication that Congress may be willing to tacitly approve the coup-backed government and to work with, rather than sanction, its leaders. The Royce/Engel statement conditions this on moving toward democracy, though it's anybody's guess how they will measure that or their level of patience.

Here's the full statement:

The decision by the Egyptian military to take state authority out of the hands of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood government marks another sharp turning point in Egypt’s incomplete revolution. What the Brotherhood neglected to understand is that democracy means more than simply holding elections. Real democracy requires inclusiveness, compromise, respect for human and minority rights, and a commitment to the rule of law. Morsi and his inner circle did not embrace any of these principles and instead chose to consolidate power and rule by fiat. As a result the Egyptian people and their economy suffered greatly.

It is now up to the Egyptian military to demonstrate that the new transitional government can and will govern in a transparent manner and work to return the country to democratic rule. We are encouraged that a broad cross-section of Egyptians will gather to rewrite the constitution. All parties in Egypt must show restraint, prevent violence, and prepare to be productive players in the future democratic Egypt. We encourage the military to exercise extreme caution moving forward and support sound democratic institutions through which the people and future governments can flourish.

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Max Fisher · July 5, 2013