By Clark Brooks, Greenville News
Declaring that the Egyptian military is making martyrs of demonstrators supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday that the U.S. should suspend aid to the embattled country and pressure both sides to move the fight from the streets to the voting booth.
"The best way to solve this problem is to write a new constitution where everybody has a say and have new elections. If you had new elections, the Brotherhood would get creamed at the ballot box, but they're going to be a very formidable force on the streets," Graham said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Hundreds have died the past week during massive protests by supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member ousted by the military July 3 after millions of Egyptians took to the streets in opposition to him.
Suspending aid to Egypt isn't just about the money, Graham said. It's about the relationship between the two countries, and sending a strong message that the U.S. cannot support the actions of the Egyptian military. Cutting off aid also would put an end to Western investment and tourism, he said.
"I would be firm with the military and the Brotherhood," Graham said. "We do have a lot of influence. If American business stops investing in Egypt and American tourists stop going to Egypt, their economy is going to be in ruins. There is a lot at stake here for us, and for them."
Two of Graham's announced challengers in the 2014 GOP primary told GreenvilleOnline.com Sunday that the unrest in Egypt is an Egyptian problem and the U.S. should leave solutions to them.
"I think it's up to those in Egypt now, to the military, to do what is right by the Egyptian people and to hold a democratic election," Nancy Mace said. "We can't be involved. That's not our role."
Mace, a businesswoman and first woman to graduate from The Citadel, said that Graham should have advocated cutting off aid to Egypt as soon as Morsi was ousted.
"We are a nation of laws, and we can't seem to follow them," she said. "Under our current laws, we should have not sent aid because there was a military coup."
State Sen. Lee Bright, a Roebuck businessman who announced his candidacy last week, said the new government in Egypt is "fighting the same people that the rest of the world has had an ongoing fight with since Sept. 11, when it comes to their allies, so I don't see why we'd want to punish the new folks in power in order to send a message."
However, Bright added that he is "not a fan of giving foreign aid to any nation. I think the nations ought to stand on their own. But we do get preferential treatment with the Suez Canal, for which if we paid for that treatment under another name besides foreign aid, then I think that's a discussion to have."
Bright criticized Graham for wanting to include the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's political future. He said Israel and the current government of Egypt have problems with the Brotherhood, "and although it appears that Graham did say something finally negatively about the Muslim Brotherhood, he's still wanting to put pressure on the government to include the Muslim Brotherhood in the process."
A third candidate, Anderson County businessman Richard Cash, could not be reached Sunday.
President Barack Obama denounced the violence in remarks last week, canceled joint military exercises that were scheduled for next month, and delayed delivery of four F-16 fighter jets.
Graham on Sunday called Morsi's removal a coup, but Obama did not use that word, as it would require that he suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, The Associated Press reported.
However, the president did leave open the possibility of further action in Egypt, declaring, "Going forward I've asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship."
Obama added that the U.S. wants Egypt to be peaceful, democratic and prosperous, but said it is up the Egyptians to make that happen. "America cannot determine the future of Egypt," he said. "That's a task for the Egyptian people. We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure."
Members of Congress were divided Sunday over suspending aid to Egypt. Among the opposition is Rep. Pete King, R-NY, who said it would reduce U.S. influence over the country's interim government.
Democratic leaders generally have supported Obama's approach, but Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said Sunday he would end aid to Egypt, The AP reported. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress and is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Congress should allow the president flexibility in talks with Egypt. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said "we are not winning the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people," and that U.S. aid to Egypt was more likely to "buy a chateau in Paris" for an Egyptian military leader than "bread in Cairo" for the poor.
Morsi was elected president of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak was forced out in 2011. Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told GreenvilleOnline.com at the time that he was worried the Muslim Brotherhood would produce the winning candidate because it was the most organized political group.
He said Sunday that "even though the Brotherhood overplaying their hand started this, we can't support what the military is doing in response." Nor can the U.S. support the idea of crushing the Brotherhood, something he said Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is being pressured to do by counties in the region, including Israel.
"If you think you can take 25 to 30 percent of the population and put them in jail and kill them," Graham said, "you are making a mistake."
Graham, who recently returned from a trip to Egypt, said it is better to include the Brotherhood in the process and defeat them at the polls, and if Egypt does not embark on that path soon, the country is headed for disaster. The Brotherhood will go underground, al-Qaida will come to their aid and an armed insurgency will replace protesters within two or three months, Graham said.
"Al-Qaida is going to come uninvited into Egypt and you're going to have a failed state," he said. "That means gas prices go up for us, the Suez Canal gets compromised and Egypt becomes a staging area for U.S. attacks against Israel. This is an absolute disaster in the making."