Panetta: Egypt Making Good Progress on Transition

CAIRO, Egypt, Oct. 4, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said here today that he has full con­fi­dence in Egypt’s abil­i­ty to trans­form itself to a civil­ian-led democ­ra­cy fol­low­ing 26 years of being ruled under a dis­sent-sup­press­ing emer­gency law.

Speak­ing at a news brief­ing fol­low­ing meet­ings with Egypt­ian lead­ers, Panet­ta said such a tran­si­tion would be a “tremen­dous sig­nal” to the region about mov­ing in a pos­i­tive direc­tion. “I real­ly do have full con­fi­dence in the process that the Egypt­ian mil­i­tary is over­see­ing,” the sec­re­tary said, refer­ring to the Supreme Coun­cil of the Armed Forces, a body of senior offi­cers led by Defense Min­is­ter Field Mar­shal Mohamed Tanta­wi.

The coun­cil assumed pow­er in Egypt on Feb. 11 after pro­test­ers forced the res­ig­na­tion of long-time pres­i­dent Hos­ni Mubarak dur­ing the ear­ly days of the ongo­ing Egypt­ian rev­o­lu­tion.

“I think they’re mak­ing good progress [and] I expressed my per­son­al appre­ci­a­tion for their role in help­ing the Egypt­ian peo­ple … tran­si­tion to a new polit­i­cal future that includes free and fair elec­tions,” Panet­ta said.

The coun­cil made impor­tant deci­sions in the past few days in response to pop­u­lar con­cerns about sev­er­al issues, a senior U.S. defense offi­cial said today dur­ing a read out of Panetta’s meet­ings with Tanta­wi, Prime Min­is­ter Essam Sharaf and Maj. Gen. Murad Muwafi, direc­tor of Egypt’s Gen­er­al Intel­li­gence Ser­vices.

The deci­sions includ­ed a com­mit­ment to lift the emer­gency law, which the mil­i­tary held in place even after pro­test­ers left the streets. The Supreme Coun­cil last month made changes to the law, but did not abol­ish it.

Although the coun­cil has­n’t actu­al­ly used the law since it assumed pow­er, the defense offi­cial said, “hav­ing the emer­gency law still in effect would cast a shad­ow over the elec­tion process. That’s why [Defense Depart­ment offi­cials have] urged coun­cil mem­bers to lift it as soon as pos­si­ble, and cer­tain­ly before the elec­tions take place.”

The coun­cil also agreed to end the prac­tice of try­ing civil­ians in mil­i­tary courts, he added, and is plan­ning to move ahead with the devel­op­ment of con­sti­tu­tion­al prin­ci­ples that will serve as a frame­work for the sub­se­quent work of draft­ing a con­sti­tu­tion.

One-third of seats in the future par­lia­ment will be indi­vid­ual man­dates, the defense offi­cial said, refer­ring to an agree­ment by the coun­cil to allow peo­ple who are mem­bers of polit­i­cal par­ties to join to off­set the per­ceived advan­tage that oth­er­wise would have gone to peo­ple from Mubarak’s Nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

“We came away with the impres­sion that the Egypt­ian lead­er­ship is clear­ly deter­mined to trans­fer pow­er back to civil­ian rule,” the senior defense offi­cial said, “but the timetable going for­ward beyond elec­tion dates that have been announced for the low­er and upper hous­es of par­lia­ment is still not clear.”

Elec­tions for the low­er house will be held in late Novem­ber, the upper house in Jan­u­ary, and the new par­lia­ment will be seat­ed some­time in March, Panet­ta said.

After­ward, a com­mit­tee will be appoint­ed to revise the con­sti­tu­tion. Once that is in place, a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will be held, he added.

In Panetta’s meet­ing with Tanta­wi, the field mar­shal dis­cussed anoth­er recent deci­sion of the coun­cil to accept inter­na­tion­al wit­ness­es to observe the upcom­ing elec­tions, and to con­tin­ue to con­sult with major polit­i­cal groups to cre­ate the con­di­tions under which new polit­i­cal par­ties might form.

On the defense rela­tion­ship, Panet­ta expressed sup­port for the con­tin­ued devel­op­ment and mod­ern­iza­tion of the Egypt­ian armed forces and urged the Egyp­tians to make the best use of their U.S. for­eign mil­i­tary financ­ing by more clear­ly defin­ing require­ments and capa­bil­i­ties geared toward cur­rent threats.

“It is firm­ly in America’s inter­est to pro­vide the Egypt­ian mil­i­tary the sup­port it needs to con­front shared threats and help fur­ther region­al secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty,” the sec­re­tary said.

With Tanta­wi and the oth­er lead­ers, the sec­re­tary dis­cussed con­cerns about the sit­u­a­tion in the Sinai Penin­su­la.

Threats in the region con­tin­ue, Panet­ta said, along with con­tin­u­ing efforts to deal with ter­ror­ism, con­cerns over nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion, and con­tin­ued tur­bu­lence along the bor­der.

Tanta­wi assured Panet­ta of the military’s com­mit­ment to deal with poten­tial insta­bil­i­ty there and with extrem­ism in the region.

“The Egypt­ian mil­i­tary has worked with the Israelis to get excep­tions to lim­its under the peace treaty so they can pro­duce addi­tion­al army units,” Panet­ta said.

“They’re tak­ing advan­tage of Israeli flex­i­bil­i­ty on that score,” the sec­re­tary added, “so we’re encour­aged that they’re going to beef up capa­bil­i­ties there to try to reduce the like­li­hood of future inci­dents.”

The Unit­ed States is ready to help the Egyp­tians if they need tech­ni­cal assis­tance to strength­en bor­der secu­ri­ty, he said.

Panet­ta also urged the Egyp­tians, as he did a day ear­li­er dur­ing meet­ings with Israeli lead­ers, that the Egypt­ian and Israeli gov­ern­ments strength­en their com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­sul­ta­tions on Sinai secu­ri­ty and bor­der secu­ri­ty.

“Any­thing the Unit­ed States can do to work with both of them to pro­mote that kind of rela­tion­ship I think would be in the inter­est of the secu­ri­ty of this area,” he said.

The sec­re­tary under­scored with Tanta­wi and Muwafi — with whom Panet­ta worked in his for­mer role as CIA direc­tor — the department’s desire to strength­en coun­tert­er­ror­ism coop­er­a­tion on a bilat­er­al lev­el.

Eco­nom­i­cal­ly, the defense offi­cial said, the Egyp­tians were ask­ing the Defense Depart­ment to do more to encour­age for­eign invest­ment by let­ting poten­tial investors know that secu­ri­ty con­di­tions in the North African nation have improved.

“This has been a remark­able year for the Egypt­ian peo­ple,” Panet­ta said, “and I have the deep­est respect for their brav­ery and their com­mit­ment to bring­ing about the impor­tant change that we’re see­ing.”

In estab­lish­ing a new democ­ra­cy, he added, “I believe Egypt will not only remain piv­otal in this region, but can be very key to estab­lish­ing sim­i­lar democ­ra­cies through­out this area.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)