By DONNA MILES
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Expressing “deep concern” about raids earlier this week on non-governmental organizations operating in Egypt, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is telling the leader of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that it’s time to move the democratic process forward.
Speaking by phone with Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Panetta condemned the December 29 raids and expressed appreciation for Tantawi’s decision to stop them and make it easier for NGOs to operate in Egypt, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little reported.
Egyptian police and judicial officials reportedly raided the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House as well as other NGOs that have been critical of strong-armed practices by Egyptian officials.
Panetta underscored the need for the democratic process that began when a popular uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February to proceed. “After two successful rounds of parliamentary elections, the secretary emphasized that it is critical for Egypt to continue on the path to democratic transition,” Little said.
The secretary also reaffirmed the importance of the longstanding U.S.-Egyptian security relationship, Little said. He “made clear that the United States remains committed to the strategic partnership and stands ready to cooperate with Egypt as it continues its democratic transition,” he said.
Visiting Cairo in October, the secretary said 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.
Panetta said such a transition would be a “tremendous signal” to the region about moving in a positive direction.