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Legislative Roundup - December 20, 2005

Special Mid-Week Edition -- Congress stayed in session throughout the past weekend and wrapped up business on a number of Middle East-related issues

December 20, 2005 (Special Mid-Week Edition)

I. Hamas Resolution Update
II. Egypt Resolution Update
III. Other End-of-Session Updates/News

Congress stayed in session throughout the past weekend, during which they wrapped up business on a number of Middle East-related issues.


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I. HAMAS RESOLUTION UPDATE
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As noted in last week's edition of the Round-Up, H. Res. 575, originally introduced on November 18th and referred to the House International Relations Committee, was brought to the House floor under suspension of the rules on December 14th. On December 16th the House voted and passed the measure by a vote of 397-17, with 7 members voting "present."

A number of members spoke against the resolution (see last week's edition of the Round-Up for APN's talking points, which were entered into the Congressional Record). These included Reps. Blumenauer (D-OR), Lee (D-CA), and Dingell (D-MI), who placed into the record an op-ed by APN President and CEO Debra DeLee (entitled "The Sharonization of Hamas" - text of the op-ed is available on the APN website).


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II. EGYPT RESOLUTION UPDATE
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As reported on last week's Round-Up, in the 11th hour of this session of Congress, the House took up H. Con. Res. 284, a resolution regarding Egyptian elections that had been previously introduced and passed by the House International Relations Committee.

The measure was taken up in a manner that lacked transparency and accountability, in that the resolution was largely rewritten behind the scenes. While the amended text was available, to some people, as early as December 14th, it still had not been seen by most House members when it was brought up on the House floor on Sunday, December 18th, or when it was finally voted on by the House at 4:21 am on December 19th.

The measure was passed by a vote of 338-22.

The only member who spoke out against the resolution was Rep. Fortenberry (R-NE), who eloquently laid out what he saw as the problems with the resolution:

"Mr. Speaker, as we consider the issue of democratic reform in Egypt, I think it is vitally important to assess progress in the context of the multifaceted cultural and philosophical challenges facing Egyptian society. None of us would deny the benefits of freedom and democracy or choose another path to justice for our nation. Egypt has also taken its first steps on the path to democracy in a region where this concept of governance is virtually unknown and untested, despite many internal and external obstacles.

"While this resolution draws attention to very legitimate and serious concerns that I share, I am concerned that as re-written, it amounts to a harsh censure that will accomplish little short of alienating the Egyptian government at a particularly volatile time in the history of the Middle East.

"Mr. Speaker, would it have been better if Egypt's elections had not been held at all?

"Looking at recent history, Egypt has borne significant sacrifices for the cause of peace and freedom in the Middle East. Formerly an ally of the Soviet Union, Egypt moved to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in 1978 after 30 years of hostilities. President Sadat paid a high price for Egypt's rapprochement with Israel. More recently, Ambassador Ihab ai-Sherif paid with his life for daring to defy the foes of democracy in Iraq.

"When I visited Sinai as an 18-year-old, I was struck by the graffiti scrawled on a twisted heap of concrete with the message: 'Here was the war--Here is the peace.' For close to 30 years now, Egypt has stood by a courageous choice for peace. While no government is perfect, this choice has been consistent with a move toward democratic reform, however flawed, and however tenuous.

"Egypt's first contested presidential elections this September and the parliamentary elections held in December represent a significant achievement. Nevertheless, the unpleasant realities of high unemployment, threats of terrorism, internal political and religious strife, along with the vicious persecution of minority faith communities remain pressing concerns. While the state of democracy in Egypt is neither ideal nor established, we dismiss Egypt's concerns about the 'slippery slope to theocracy' at our peril.

"During Secretary Rice's visit to American University in Cairo this summer, she recalled the words of President Bush's Second Inaugural Address: 'Our goal is to help others find their own voice, to attain their own freedom, and to make their own way.' Secretary Rice went on to say that 'we know these advances will not come easily, or all at once.'

"I appreciate and share the heartfelt concern of my colleagues who are seeking to usher Egypt along the path toward a vibrant and thriving democracy. However, I believe that we need to express this concern in a manner that acknowledges the accomplishments of the past, appreciates the challenges of the present, and carefully considers the options available to realize our hopes for the future."


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III. OTHER END-OF-SESSION UPDATES/NEWS ======================================

(LEBANON) H. Res. 598: Introduced December 14th by Rep. Issa (D-CA) and cosponsored by Ackerman (D-NY), Lantos (D-CA), and Wexler (D-FL), "Condemning the actions by the Government of Syria that have hindered the investigation of the assassination of former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafik Hariri conducted by the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIC), expressing support for extending the UNIIC's mandate, and stating concern about similar assassination attempts apparently aimed at destabilizing Lebanon's security and undermining Lebanon's sovereignty. Brought up on December 14th under suspension of the rules; passed at 10:43pm on December 16th by a vote of 404-5, with one voting "present."

(SAUDI ARABIA) H. Con. Res. 275: Introduced October 26th by Rep. Jim Davis (D-FL), "Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the education curriculum in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." The resolution was brought to the House floor under suspension of the rules (although in this case the House International Relations Committee had reported the resolution out of committee, and the text that was brought to the floor was the same text that the committee had considered - so suspending the rules in this case did not reflect an effort to bypass the committee process but rather to get the measure passed quickly, before Congress adjourned). It was passed on Monday, December 19th at 6:12 am (following an all- night session) by a vote of 351-1, with 2 voting "present."

(IRAN) S. Res. 336 and 337: Introduced December 16th by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), "A resolution to condemn the harmful, destructive, and anti-Semitic statements of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, and to demand an apology for those statements of hate and animosity towards all Jewish people of the world." The first version of the resolution included two "resolved" clauses to which some members objected, resulting in the introduction of the second version, which was passed by unanimous consent.

The two clauses that were removed had nothing to do with the subject of the resolution (Ahmedinejad's statements about Jews and the Holocaust) but rather are identical to language Santorum has introduced elsewhere which would imply Senate support for regime change in Iran (see S. 333, Sec. 302 - a bill that many view as a tantamount to an "Iran Liberation Act" - discussed in the Feb. 18th edition of the Round-Up for details).


For more information contact Government Relations Director Lara Friedman at 202/728-1893, or at lfriedman@peacenow.org.