MIAMI (CBS4) – Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said she is thrilled to see change come to Egypt but is concerned where that change will lead.
She said the protesters achieved their goal of forcing President Hosni Mubarak to leave office after 30 years — handing power over to the military for the time being — but she said those calling for change must make sure that neither Islamic extremists nor the military gains control.
“Will (protesters) move toward democracy and make sure they have free and fair elections and multi-party elections or will they let the military take over and then all the great strides they’ve made have been for naught,” Ros-Lehtinen said a news conference at the Miami International Airport Friday.
She fears that if elections are held quickly an established group like the Muslim Brotherhood could easily win election.
“All too often we have seen the process get hijacked by extremist elements,” she said. “We certainly hope in this leadership vacuum that the Muslim Brotherhood does not exploit the wishes of the people of Egypt and because they have been the only organized group that they will be able to sail into an electoral spot.”
She also cautioned that the upheaval in Egypt could have enormous consequences with Israel, which shares a border with Egypt and negotiated a peace treaty with the country in 1979.
“Israel’s survival depends on having peace continue with its’ neighbors,” she said. “For Israel what happens in Egypt in the next few days of this transition and the next few weeks of this transition, will determine its’ fate.”
However, Ros-Lehtinen is hopeful that the scenes in Cairo of protesters demanding change after years of high unemployment, low wages, government corruption and few freedoms could lead to similar scenes in other nations in the Middle East.
“It could be a very liberating period right now,” she said. “We want those seeds of democracy that the people have spread in (Tahrir) Square to go to Yemen and to go to Saudi Arabia and to go to the United Arab Emirates and to go everywhere in the region.”
Egyptians living in South Florida are also concerned about whether democracy can flourish in Egypt after years of autocratic rule.
Father Timotheus Soliman, of St. John the Baptist Coptic Orthodox Church, says Egyptians will need to be shown how democracy works.
“We cannot lead the people to walk in the path of democracy without learning what is attached to democracy, especially when there is a fear of Islamization,” he told CBS 4 News.
Ros-Lehtinen said the U.S. has pledged to assist Egypt in any way it can. She said the U.S. sends more than a billion dollars to Egypt each year for military aid, which gives the U.S. a great deal of leverage.
“We hope the people of Egypt make the right choice and will use their heads and their heart to vote for moderate candidates,” she said.