McCain optimistic about NGO row after meeting Tantawi

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CAIRO: Tossing aside recent allegations that the United States is meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs, US Senator John McCain stressed he is “optimistic” that the row over American non-governmental organizations in Egypt will be resolved soon, after meeting with Egypt’s ruling military council on Monday.

“As we follow the debate here in Egypt, we hear it said [that] these NGOs are violating Egypt’s sovereignty and meddling in its affairs. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said McCain.

McCain lead a delegation of four other senators from Alabama, Connecticut, South Carolina, and North Dakota to discuss the future of Egypt’s democracy as well as the fate of the American civil society workers in Egypt.

Forty-three NGO workers, including Americans, were referred to court on charges of foreign funding and unlicensed political activity.

“The majority of the people who work for these organizations in Egypt are not foreigners; they are Egyptians, and their work which is done at the request of democracy groups seek to support these Egyptian partners in pushing for the rule of law, free elections, and free media, the respect of human rights and other aspects of a free society,” he said.

The senator also underlined that the targeting of NGOs is a holdover of the Hosni Mubarak era, which pushed Egyptians to take to the streets demanding human rights and dignity.

According to McCain, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi assured the senators that the Egyptian administration is working diligently to resolve the issue and the American NGO employees will soon be given the opportunity to return home.

The senators, however, did not mention how or when the case would be resolved.

“Ultimately, this matter of the NGOs is not about America, despite the efforts of some to make it about America. It is about Egypt, it is about Egyptian democratic and civil society groups, the inherit rights they process and whether those rights are respected by the government,” said McCain.

“Now Egyptians have the chance to turn the page from the Mubarak era and write a new chapter in the great history of their sovereign nation and that is for Egyptians, they alone, to do,” he added.

However, as Egyptians continue to change their country, America will remain a supportive partner, McCain reiterated.

McCain said that the US delegates were not here to negotiate the NGOs issue and would leave that to the US and Egyptian government, but rather to discuss the path Egypt plans to take in its transition.

The senators stressed their concern about Egypt’s political future, but also said they are hopeful for its future, after meeting with parliament members and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom Justice Party, which has the majority of People’s Assembly.

Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina reiterated that he is deeply “offended” from the accusations made against the NGOs, including his own party’s initiative, the International Republican Institute, which has been working in Egypt for years.

Graham also said that after the senators’ meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood, they were told that parliament would pass a new law regarding NGOs, in order to abolish Mubarak-era practices.

“When they told us one of their priorities was to right a new law, that made me believe what’s going on here in their minds is unjust,” said Graham.

Hoping that after once this issue is resolved, Egypt and the US can “start over,” Graham pointed out that he does not believe that the Muslim Brotherhood wants to be seen defending Mubara-era laws or practices.

He said the US would continue to support Egypt as long as its government is committed to establishing democracy, in reference to $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

Graham added that the success of the revolutions in the Arab region depends what happens in Egypt, hoping that in coming years, young Arabs would come to Egypt and see the “first democracy” in the heart of the Arab world.

“If the Arab Spring becomes a failure, then there are dark days ahead for all of us,” he said. “I leave here optimistic more than I came.”

In reference to the region, McCain told the group of journalists that a “massacre” was continuing in Syria and urged the international community as well as the American president to speak against the “crimes Bashar Al-Assad is committing against his own people.”

“I am not saying that the US should directly supply the Syrian people with weapons, but we support the Syrian National Council. There are ways to get weapons to Syria, we saw it happen in Libya. It is time we help the Syrian people defend themselves,” he added.


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