Reporter's Notebook: Rep. Lynch reports in from Mideast hot spots

In Egypt this month, citizens voted against the toppled Hosni Mubarak regime that controlled them for 30 years more than they voted for a presidential candidate from a fundamentalist group, according to Congressman Stephen Lynch.

The South Boston Democrat had a chance to see the historic election up close when he visited two polling stations and Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi triumphed over Ahmed Shafiq, who was Mubarak’s prime minister, in two-day run-off June 16-17.

“I think people voted for change,” said Lynch, who as a member of the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, was in Egypt with a Congressional delegation. Joined by Republicans from Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Louisiana, Lynch also visited Afghanistan, Djibouti, Pakistan, and Yemen.

Lynch said the Egyptian election appeared “orderly,” “fairly free, and open,” with the military, which has overseen the country after Mubarak was tossed out of power, having a “considerable” presence. There were separate polling places for the men and women, he noted.

The results were not announced until Sunday as fears of more unrest swept the nation.

Lynch said he regretted the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory, but added that Morsi was the better organized candidate. People were forced to vote for either the Mubarak regime or the Muslim Brotherhood, he said. If a moderate candidate made it onto the runoff’s ballot, “it would have been a different election,” he added.

In his swing through Afghanistan, Lynch visited a hospital for wounded soldiers in Bagram and Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province. Some 23,000 Marines will be withdrawing from Afghanistan this summer. “It seems to be going fairly smooth,” he said. The Afghan troops are “doing a fairly good job” so far, although the Taliban has been “picking up momentum,” he added.

In the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, Lynch and his congressional colleagues met with President Asif Ali Zardari and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistan Army’s chief of staff. U.S.-Pakistani relations reached a new low point in November, when a NATO action killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The shootings – and the lack of an apology – led Pakistan officials to close major supply routes used by NATO to travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Lynch said an apology “probably should have happened weeks ago,” and the incident has been repeatedly played up in the Pakistani press.
The delegation later spent a night aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, 50 miles off the coast of Iran, with 5,000 sailors and 300 Marines. Before hitting Egypt, the delegation stopped in Djibouti to meet with groups fighting piracy and extremism in East Africa and dropped into Yemen to meet with President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Hadi’s soldiers, who make up a force 7,000-strong, are fighting 2,000 members of Al Qaeda in southern Yemen. Hadi is looking for US assistance, Lynch said, but in equipment purchases, not personnel. “The terrain there is very difficult,” Lynch said.

Asked about the massive cuts in defense and domestic spending that could go into effect in January, Lynch blamed Republicans for seeking to renege on the original agreement, which called for $600 billion in defense cuts and $600 in domestic cuts. Republicans want $800 billion in cuts for domestic spending and just $400 billion for the defense industry, according to Lynch.

“That’s not going to fly,” he said. “It’s contrary to what the original agreement was.” The cuts, known as “sequestration,” are an effort to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion.

Lynch, who was elected to Congress in 2001, will likely face a Republican challenger this fall in a redrawn Congressional district that now includes Quincy. Two candidates are vying for the chance: Joe Selvaggi of Boston and Matt Temperley, a Quincy resident and Iraqi war veteran.

In 2010, Lynch handily won reelection over Republican Vernon Harrison, picking up 68.4 percent of the vote and receiving the highest vote total among his colleagues in the all-Democrat Massachusetts delegation.

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