US Senator Lindsey Graham praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at a Sunday press conference in Cairo, describing him as “the right man at the right time” to lead Egypt.
Graham also appeared to defend Egypt’s human right’s record, despite criticism from US officials. “I understand that the country is a new democracy and coming out of chaos … He [Sisi] has to balance security with the rule of law,” AFP news agency reported Graham as saying.
Sunday’s comments mark a sharp departure from stances taken previously by Graham, a Republican senator representing the state of South Carolina.
In a July 2013 editorial, co-written with fellow Republican senator John McCain, the lawmakers described the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi as a “coup” and called on the United States to suspend aid to Egypt.
The senators wrote that restoring aid should depend on Egypt’s new administration taking a number of steps, including guaranteeing the right to free speech and assembly, elections for a new civilian government and inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process.
In an August 5, 2013 press conference in Cairo, Graham and McCain once again described Morsi’s overthrow as a coup. The comments were hugely controversial, given the new government’s insistence that Morsi’s removal from office was the result of a popular uprising.
Then-President Adly Mansour called the senators’ comments “an unacceptable interference in internal policies,” while talk show host Lamis al-Hadidy called them a “big insult to Egypt and its people.”
Graham’s remarks this Sunday do not appear to have prompted similar calls for him to keep his opinions to himself.
Citing the Egyptian military’s importance as an ally of Israel and guarantor of American interests in the Middle East, Graham and McCain briefly softened their stance on cutting aid to Egypt, which both voted against on August 2, 2013.
Two weeks later, in the wake of the killing of hundreds of protestors in Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda Squares, McCain and Graham changed tack again. “The interim civilian government and security forces — backed up, unfortunately, by the military – are taking Egypt down a dark path, one that the United States cannot and should not travel with them,” they said in a joint statement that called on President Barack Obama to suspend aid to Egypt.
In June 2014, Graham again said the United States should reconsider its aid to Egypt.
The deciding factor in the latest about-face by US Republicans appears to be a desire to support Egypt’s fight against the Islamic State.
In a February statement, McCain said he believed the United States must support Egypt’s “fight against terrorism and extremism,” but shouldn’t turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. “[T]here does not have to be a trade-off between democracy and security, and the need to defeat ISIL and other extremists groups in the region must not blind us to our human rights commitments,” he said.
Graham’s statements Sunday were less nuanced. “I believe that President Sisi is the right man at the right time. And I will do everything I can to support him and the people of Egypt as they try to transition from chaos to order, as they try to establish the rule of law, principles of human rights, and deal with terrorism all at the same time.”