US Republicans back Egypt’s el-Sissi despite rights concerns

Sen. Lindsey Graham calls president ‘the right man at the right time,’ cites battle against Islamic State in Sinai

Senator Lindsey Graham gestures during a press conference with members of his Congressional delegation in Cairo, Egypt, on April 3, 2016. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)
Senator Lindsey Graham gestures during a press conference with members of his Congressional delegation in Cairo, Egypt, on April 3, 2016. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed)

CAIRO — A US Republican delegation visiting Cairo on Sunday said President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was the “right man at the right time” for Egypt even as Washington criticizes alleged rights abuses in the country.

The six-member delegation led by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) backed Sissi in the fight against the jihadist Islamic State group, but was cautious when asked to respond to growing accusations of human rights violations committed by Egyptian security forces.

Graham said Sissi was “the right man at the right time” to lead Egypt as the Islamic State group had become a “nightmare” for the entire region.

“There is a desire that Daesh be destroyed in Sinai… the president has expressed his desire to destroy Daesh,” Graham said using the Arabic acronym for the IS, which is spearheading an insurgency in the restive Sinai peninsula.

When asked about the human rights situation in Egypt, Graham offered a response in stark contrast to the present US administration, which has regularly criticized reported human rights abuses in Egypt.

“I understand that the country is a new democracy and coming out of chaos,” he told reporters in Cairo.

“He (Sissi) has to balance security with the rule of law… there are elements that come to Egypt to disrupt the nation and there are many people coming here to help you. Don’t treat them all in the same way,” the senator added.

Rights groups have accused Egypt’s security services of carrying out illegal detentions, forced disappearances of activists and torture of detainees since the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

After his removal, a police crackdown targeting Morsi’s supporters led to gun battles that left hundreds dead and tens of thousands jailed. Hundreds more have been sentenced to death including Morsi himself.

In March, US Secretary of State John Kerry said there was a “deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt in recent weeks and months.”

Ties between Washington and Cairo deteriorated after Morsi’s ouster.

The US froze its annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, which led Cairo to warm up to Russia and France to meet its arms requirements.

But the aid was later released even as Washington remains critical of the government’s rights record.

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