For the second time in as many years, Egypt finds itself at a pivotal crossroads. What has become clear by recent events is that millions of Egyptians believe that the Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood project has failed to live up to the goals and aspirations of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Many believed that it was always doomed from the start, that the tenets of Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were incongruous with those of the demonstrators of Tahrir Square, and throughout Egypt, who finally decided that oppressive rule was enough.
Transitioning to democracy takes time. The day after Hosni Mubarak stepped down, I warned that the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists would exploit and hijack these events to gain power. Many have been putting too much faith in the "Morsi was elected democratically" mantra. Democracy is far more than holding elections. In a post-Morsi era, it is important that the next government governs in a democratic manner that encompasses respecting the rights of others, separation of powers, and a free and independent press, which are some of the attributes of a true democracy. And that is where the United States should have been playing a vital role from the beginning.
The United States needed to be helping build up civil society, rule of law and democracy promotion programs in Egypt in the aftermath of Mr. Mubarak. We should have been pushing for constitutional and administrative reforms that would have paved the way for legitimate and truly democratic elections. After millions of Egyptians flocked to the streets in Egypt to decry Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood for their failure to live up to the ideals of freedom and democracy, the Obama administration chose to work with the Morsi government, not hold them accountable, and failed to take a decisive and firm stance in support of the people of Egypt.
From Day One, we should have been leveraging our assistance to Mr. Morsi to push his government to implement real democratic reforms — the kind of reforms these demonstrators have been desperately crying out for — instead of providing aid unconditionally and legitimizing the Muslim Brotherhood led-government. After one year of empty promises, deteriorating economic strain and continued human rights abuses by the Morsi regime, these protesters are voicing their demands for substantive political reforms in Egypt. This was a consistent pattern during Mr. Morsi's year in office, yet last month, Secretary of State John Kerry very quietly invoked a waiver because the State Department could not certify that the government of Egypt is abiding by democratic principles, and cleared the way to send another $1.3 billion to Egypt in foreign military financing.
This decision not only seems to defy logic, but also would seem to stand in contradiction with public statements from the administration that it is imperative that Egypt transition to democracy and support the aspirations of the freedom-seeking people. The Muslim Brotherhood led-government had figured out our playbook. As long as Egypt fulfills its obligations under the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the Obama administration will continue to look the other way when it comes to democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. We know this because on June 4, without much attention from the media or the policy leaders at Foggy Bottom, an Egyptian court convicted 43 nongovernmental workers, which included 16 U.S. citizens from the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House and shut down their operations.
How can we justify continuing to send money from U.S. taxpayers to a government who expelled American NGOs and prosecuted U.S. citizens whose mission was to foster a democratic future? We can't. Last year when I was chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I held over $500 million of U.S. assistance to Egypt because the Muslim Brotherhood-led government had yet to demonstrate that they would be good stewards of American taxpayer dollars. Their continued failure to do so is why I introduced H.R. 416 — the Egypt Accountability and Democracy Promotion Act, which conditions U.S. aid to Egypt upon certification that Egypt is transitioning to a free-market democratic government and adopts and implements legal reforms that protect the rights of all citizens.
Calling for change and actually affecting change are vastly different perspectives. The Egyptian people must be part of the process to implement substantive changes to strengthen their ambitions for a free society, which includes forming viable political parties and taking an active role in the democratic process . We usually don't get many second chances to support democratic movements in the Middle East, but this is an opportunity for the United States to push for true democratic reforms and a vibrant civil society for all Egyptians. It is time we support the Egyptian people as they strive to implement real changes. Democracy need not come to Egypt through bloodshed and civil war.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican representing the 27th district in Florida, is chairman emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and current chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.