CAIRO -- Two senior Republican senators visiting Egypt on Tuesday urged the military-backed government to release jailed
The senators, dispatched on a mediation mission by President
The strained relations between Cairo and Washington are likely to be exacerbated by McCain's characterization of Morsi’s ouster as a military takeover, not a people’s revolt, as many Egyptians refer to it.
"We have said we share the democratic aspirations and criticism of the Morsi government that led millions of Egyptians into the streets.... We've also said that the circumstances of [Morsi's] removal were a coup," McCain told reporters.
McCain and Graham called on the Egyptian government to release members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement, many of whom have been jailed on what are widely seen as politically motivated charges, including murder. The Brotherhood, which has organized a sit-in of thousands of Islamists at the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque, has vowed not to end its protests until Morsi is reinstated.
"In democracy, you sit down and talk to each other," Graham said. He added that it "is impossible to talk to somebody who is in jail."
He also warned that U.S.-Egypt relations could be damaged: “Some in
But McCain said cutting U.S. aid to the Egyptian military would "would be the wrong signal at the wrong time."
More than 200 people, mostly Morsi supporters, have been killed in recent clashes with security forces. Diplomats from the U.S., Qatar, Europe and the United Arab Emirates have been pressing both sides to find a political solution. But the Brotherhood has said that Morsi, who is in army custody, was fairly elected last year and is the nation's legitimate ruler.
Graham touched on Egypt's confounding political landscape by saying: "The people who are in charge were not elected. The people who were elected are in jail. The status quo is not acceptable."
His comments also illustrated Washington’s erratic policy toward Egypt since longtime U.S. ally
The senators' arrival and other envoys shuttling around town have chafed the Egyptian government. Ahmed Muslimani, a spokesman for interim President Adly Mahmoud Mansour, said that "foreign pressure has exceeded international standards."
Egypt's official news agency said Graham and McCain held talks with Sisi to explore ways of ending "the state of political polarization and stop the violence" to ensure that in coming months Egypt's constitution is amended and parliamentary elections are held.