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Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are in Egypt today. They're trying to resolve a growing political crisis sparked by the military's ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. The senators urged all sides to start a national dialogue.
But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo, their choice of words quickly angered the interim government.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: At a news conference, Graham warned Egyptians that their country was looking into the abyss and called on the government to release political prisoners.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: The people who are now in charge of the government were not elected. The people who were elected are now in jail. I don't know how you would explain that situation. But here's what we're here to say: Something's got to give.
NELSON: McCain described what happened to Morsi as a military coup.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: However, we have not come to Egypt to dwell on the past. We are here to look forward and move forward toward what is in the best interests of Egypt and the United States, and urge our friends here to do the same.
NELSON: The senators said it would have sent the wrong signal for the U.S. to cut off $1.5 billion in yearly aid to Egypt, most of which goes to the military. They are calling on the new military-backed leaders to restore democracy as soon as possible.
An advisor to the interim president said that the government rejects foreign mediation in the crisis. But McCain said they are not in Egypt to mediate.
We are here to meet with our friends. We are here to talk with all parties and urge that they sit down together and begin a serious negotiation to avert this cliff.
But Egyptian officials did not take kindly to the senators' characterization of events. The state-run television network stopped broadcasting the news conference after McCain referred to Morsi's ouster as a military coup. A State TV anchor blamed it on technical difficulties.
The government, as well as many Egyptians, reject that term and say the military actually saved Egypt's fledgling democracy. They accuse Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to establish autocratic rule.
McCain and Graham's visit, which was requested by President Obama, comes after a number of high-level diplomats from the U.S., the European Union, Africa, and the Middle East have tried to resolve the crisis in recent days.
The senators say they met with General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who heads the armed forces, as well as with officials in the military-backed interim government. McCain says they also met with members of the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.
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