Many progressives in the United States were disappointed when presumed Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton named US Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate.
Known for his centrist tone and bipartisan style, on many key issues Kaine is to the right of Bernie Saunders — Hillary’s competition for the Democratic Party nomination — or prominent Clinton supporter, Senator Elizabeth Warren.
When it comes to Egypt, though, Kaine has a solid record of calling for the United States to support human rights and publicly criticizing repression by Egyptian leaders. As a member of the Senate’s Armed Forces, Budget and Foreign Relations Committees, and Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Near East, South and Central Asian Affairs, Kaine has made many public statements about Egyptian affairs.
In a 2014 article for Al-Monitor, Kaine listed releasing political prisoners as one of the top things Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al- Sisi must do in order to “get his politics right.”
“Sisi should release political prisoners, including all uncharged American citizens, pardon nongovernmental organization workers convicted under Morsi and invite all Egyptians who renounce violence back into the political process.” He also called on Sisi to pursue reconciliation with his political opponents: “The fact that a substantial number of Egyptians who supported ousted President [Mohamed] Morsi have no political outlet is a problem. A strong Egyptian president should have no problem genuinely extending a hand to all Egyptians interested in participating peacefully in politics, particularly before the parliamentary elections,” Kaine wrote.
“Any activity that shuts down the right of legitimate press is very, very dangerous to democratic stability,” Kaine said in a February 2014 interview with US-based broadcaster NPR. “There is, by all accounts, a need to fight terrorism in [Egypt]. There’s also significant concern that the security apparatus, while fighting terrorism, is going beyond that to punish journalists, or to punish other elements of civil society, who are not engaged in terrorist activity but have a different political opinion that they should be able to express.”
Kaine also released a statement following the June 2014 conviction of Al Jazeera journalists — although he did restrict his comments to “foreign reporters,” despite the fact that Egyptian nationals were also on trial. “The conviction today of foreign journalists in Egypt is most troubling. There are few democratic principles so well-established as the right of reporters to inform the public without fear of persecution,” he wrote. “It is my deepest hope that the Egyptian government, under the leadership of newly elected President al-Sisi, will turn away from the oppression of journalists and recognize the role of a vigorous and independent press in a great nation.”
Kaine never specifically mentioned the Rabea dispersal, but released a statement on August 15, 2013 on “violence in Egypt.”
“The latest wave of violence in Egypt and the return to a state of emergency are extremely troubling. I extend my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have been killed or wounded in recent days and call on all parties to exercise restraint and renounce violence going forward,” he wrote.
Later, he was among the voices calling on the United States to halt aid to Egypt.
In an August 20, 2013 statement, Kaine wrote: “My view is that no assistance should flow to the Egyptian government until the following conditions are met: 1) a clear commitment to hold democratic, credible elections that are free, fair, and transparent, consistent with international norms, and inclusive of all Egyptians; 2) political and religious freedoms of all Egyptians are protected, including women and religious minorities; 3) civil society is allowed to operate openly and freely; 4) all international agreements and treaties are upheld, and 5) counter terrorism and security cooperation continue, including securing the Sinai and countering smuggling into Gaza.
In August 2015, Kaine joined other legislators in signing a letter calling on US officials to keep “discussion of human rights, political reform, and civil society freedom” on the agenda during an upcoming visit to Egypt.
“A key element of US foreign policy has always been and must continue to be support for human rights, political reform, and civil society. In the US-Egypt relationship, we are concerned that these core principles seem to be no longer a priority. Policies pursued by the Egyptian authorities are fueling instability. These policies include the detention of thousands of political prisoners — including American citizens — without due process of law, restrictions on basic freedoms of assembly and mounting official pressure against the legitimate activities of independent human rights organizations. Security services continue to crackdown on protests with excessive force, while the Egyptian judiciary has handed down mass death sentences, often in absentia and without regard for fair trial standards,” the letter read.
Prompted by the June 2013 conviction of 43 NGO workers, Kaine and other US legislators sent a letter to then-President Mohamed Morsi warning that the verdict “raises concerns about how the United States and the international community can continue to assist Egypt with its transition to democracy.”
“Regrettably, the continued political persecution of those criticizing the Egyptian government, the introduction of a deeply flawed draft civil society law, and other attempts to limit freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are inconsistent with these principles,” the letter continued.
In a 2014 article, Kaine had the following to say about Morsi: “Former President Mohamed Morsi wasted a historic chance as Egypt’s first democratically-elected leader by placing himself above the law, alienating a large percentage of the Egyptian population, excluding political opponents from politics and tearing at the fabric of a society that sees itself as Egyptian first.”
Economic policy is one area in which Kaine might find himself out of step with Egyptian activists. In his article for Al-Monitor he suggested that Sisi needs to pursue “difficult but practical reforms,” create a business-friendly environment and better coordinate with international financial institutions, Gulf countries and the United States. “For decades, the state has not been able to create jobs at pace with Egypt’s youth bulge, mostly because of a bloated subsidy program for energy and food. Egypt is suffering from budget and trade deficits and poor infrastructure. The economy is being propped up by Gulf states on a month-to-month basis, but soon these allies will start asking for a real economic plan,” Kaine wrote.
Of course, many questions remain about Kaine’s stance and his ability to steer US foreign policy. If Republican candidate Donald Trump wins the US presidential election, there’s no need to even consider how Kaine might influence the president. Even if Clinton is elected, the power and influence wielded by a Vice President varies widely depending on the administration.
There is also always the possibility that Kaine could backtrack on Egypt once in office. Since being tipped for VP, Kaine has already changed his position on one high-profile issue — reversing his support for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership in order to fall in line with Clinton’s opposition to the trade deal.