The Washington Times - January 31, 2011, 07:32PM

Sen. Bill Nelson has called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to not seek re-election this year, saying such a move would help quell the protests and unrest that have gripped the north African nation for days.

Egypt’s next presidential election is scheduled for September, and there are no term limits restricting Mubarak — who has ruled Egypt since 1981 — from seeking a sixth term, as he says he will.

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“There is a short-term solution that could help calm some of the civil unrest in Egypt: guarantee the people the right to vote in free and fair elections,” wrote Nelson, a Florida Democrat, in an opinion piece posted on The Hill’s Web site Monday afternoon.

“Mubarak must immediately open these elections to international observers and give his written assurance that his name won’t appear as a contender. I believe this could help quell the protests.”

The senator stopped short of calling for Mubarak’s immediate ouster, saying that the Egyptian leader — who has been accused of ruling with an iron fist — must first come up with an exit strategy that prevents the government from falling and leaving the door open for extremists.

Mubarak’s announcement last week that he had named the head of the country’s intelligence service as his vice president is a “step in the right direction, said Nelson, who serves on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

The Democrat said the Obama administration has exercised “a great deal of caution” in recent days dealing with Mubarak. But he said if the White House pushes for the leader’s departure then the Egyptian government could into the hands of the radical Muslim Brotherhood.

“We might then see a repeat of what happened in Iran after it fell into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, on Monday warned against knee-jerk calls to cut economic and military aid to Egypt.

“I urge caution when deciding what the U.S. response will be,” the Texas Republican said. “It is critical that we are deliberate about the actions we take.”

Granger added that Egypt has been a “moderate influence in the Middle East and has a peace agreement with Israel.”