CAIRO – Two Republican U.S. senators slammed Wednesday a law recently passed by Egypt's president as "draconian" for imposing heavy restrictions and effectively banning the work of non-governmental organizations — the latest among measures cracking down on dissent in the country.
Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham urged President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to bring the law on NGOs in line with international standards and the Egyptian constitution.
"Congress should strengthen democratic benchmarks and human rights conditions on U.S. assistance for Egypt," they said in a statement.
Egypt is the second largest recipient of military aid from the United States after Israel, receiving about $1.3 billion annually.
President Donald Trump met with el-Sissi in the White House in April but made no mention of Egypt's human rights record in the post-meeting statement, signaling more tolerance as opposed to the Obama administration, which kept human rights higher up in its agenda with Egypt.
The law has triggered wide international backlash and raised concerns over human rights conditions in Egypt. The European Union said the law is "likely to directly affect" its assistance, which relies on cooperation with NGOs.
Amnesty International said the law is a "catastrophic blow" and could be a "death sentence" for human rights groups in the Mideast country. Similarly, Germany's Federal Government Human Rights Commissioner, Bärbel Kofler, expressed his concern about the law.
But Egypt defended the law, saying it was drafted and passed in accordance with constitutional provisions. The Foreign Ministry said the law "supports and empowers civil society."
The legislation was put into effect just one week after Egyptian authorities arrested potential presidential candidate Khaled Ali on charges that he violated public decency. He has since been released on bail pending trial. Authorities have also blocked access to a string of websites critical of the government, including Qatar's Al-Jazeera Network, Mada Masr and Daily News Egypt.
El-Sissi is grappling with an insurgency by Islamic militants in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, an economy struggling to keep up with demands and employment needs of Egypt's surging population, and a sustained campaign of violence against the country's Christian minority.