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Free Trade with Egypt

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. DREIER. Mr. Speaker, nearly three decades ago, one of my great heroes, Ronald Reagan, famously said:

In all of the arsenals of the world, no weapon is so powerful as the will and moral courage of free men and women.

For the last year and a half, no development on the world stage has drawn greater interest or sparked more passionate debate than the upheaval in the Arab world. What started in Tunisia in December of 2010 has spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, leaving virtually no Arab nation untouched.

Tunisia ousted a dictator and elected a constituent assembly, which is drafting a new constitution. Libya fought a civil war, rid itself of its dictator, and held elections. In both cases, particularly in Libya, blood was shed, but it has so far not been in vain, as real hope for democracy and an improved quality of life prevails.

Other countries, such as Morocco and Jordan, have seen more modest changes, but in the same direction--toward greater openness. Elsewhere in the Arab world, this unprecedented chain of events has thus far taken a far more tragic path. The Syrian people are suffering immeasurably for their efforts to unseat a regime that has proven itself eager to take innocent lives in brutal fashion.

In countries like Bahrain, the violence has been more limited, but no less tragic. Even in those nations where regimes stifle public discourse, we know that the autocrats are watching. They are mindful of Reagan's lesson that the will of the people cannot be suppressed indefinitely.

Of all the nations where this movement has unfolded, none holds greater sway over the future of the region than Egypt. Since the stunning fall of Mubarak in February of last year, Egypt has held parliamentary and presidential elections. Both sets of elections swept the Muslim Brotherhood to office, setting up a power struggle between the Brotherhood's leadership, the secularists, and the military council. Knowing of the harsh and deeply troubling rhetoric the Brotherhood has used over the years, many Americans rightly ask the question, can we work with the newly elected leadership in Egypt?

Should we continue to provide support to this government and the Egyptian people? What exactly does the Brotherhood stand for, and how will they lead? Mr. Speaker, these are important questions. To answer them, we have to go beyond the reactionary and reductionist assumptions that are often made. I've spent a great deal of time in Egypt, meeting with staunch secularists to Salafists and everyone in between, including leaders and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. What I have found is a vast movement that is far from monolithic. It is made up of moderates and hard-liners, reformers and the old guard, and great internal differences exist.

One thing, however, that has unified them is their public statements of support for the Camp David peace accords for human rights, including women's rights, as well as religious freedom, all of which are prerequisites to meet their quest to get their economy back on track through tourism and international investment. I've joined with a Democratic colleague in introducing a resolution calling for a free trade agreement with Egypt to help achieve just that.

Ultimately, we will judge them not by their words, as Secretary Clinton has just said in a piece, but by their actions. But the mere fact that these public statements have been made says a great deal about the stark difference between the nature of an underground movement, which the Muslim Brotherhood was, and an elected government. Now that the Brotherhood has at least taken some of the responsibility of righting the economy and providing opportunity for 85 million Egyptians, it will face enormous pressure to pursue a reform agenda, engage appropriately with the West and eschew regional conflict.

In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, we as Americans have a responsibility to live up to our own ideals. How can we preach democracy, yet shun the free and fair choices of Egyptians? Of course, we cannot be naive. We have to recognize that democracy is about more than just elections, but also about protecting minority rights and building institutions that outlast the individuals who occupy them.

But we also have to recognize that supporting only democracies around the world that produce our own preferred results is the height of hypocrisy. On a more practical level, compromising our own values would only strengthen the hands of anti-Western fundamentalists. Refusing to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood would simply achieve a self-fulfilling prophecy by giving rise to extremists over reformists and moderates.

No country following decades of authoritarian rule can make a full transition to a thriving, stable, peaceful and prosperous democracy quickly and painlessly. Even with the most optimistic of outlooks, the Egyptian people will struggle for years to come to throw off the shackles of the past and create the kind of future for which we all strive. We have been working at this for 236 years, Mr. Speaker, and we still haven't gotten it exactly right.

We have a responsibility, as longtime Egyptian allies and as champions of democracy around the globe, to stand with them in this process, encouraging continued reform and providing our support for the development of real democracy in the Arab world's most populous nation.

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