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Egypt: Top members of US Congress back 'right to protest' against Sisi

Leaders of House Foreign Affairs Committee call for release of Egyptian demonstrators rounded up in crackdown
Police watch as people cross street in Ramses Square in Cairo on 27 September (Reuters)

As Egyptian security forces fired tear gas and arrested demonstrators in Egypt on Friday, key members of Congress issued a statement backing Egyptians' right to protest "without fear of retribution".

The top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee also called on Friday for the release of all Egyptian protesters rounded up in the security forces' crackdown.

"We recognise and affirm that Egyptians have the right to protest peacefully and to exercise that right without fear of retribution," Eliot Engel, a Democrat, and Michael McCaul, a Republican, said in a joint statement.  

"Egyptian security services should demonstrate restraint and commitment to the protection of the rights of Egypt’s citizens. We call on the Egyptian government to release all peaceful protestors, journalists, lawyers, and members of civil society."

Egypt crackdown: Anti-Sisi protesters face tear gas, beatings and roadblocks
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On Friday, protests erupted in several Egyptian cities, only to be met with brute force from security forces.

This round of demonstrations came a week after hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets to call for the removal of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Rights groups estimate as many as 2,000 people, including journalists and prominent opposition activists, have been arrested since the protests broke out.

The US lawmakers' statement appears to be in defiance of President Donald Trump, who dismissed the protests in a meeting with Sisi early this week, calling the Egyptian president a "great leader".

Sisi came to power in a 2013 coup that ousted democratically elected former president Mohamed Morsi. Since then, he has snuffed out all forms of opposition and jailed 60,000 dissidents, with many facing death sentences.

Sisi also blacklisted Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Morsi himself was held in prison under harsh conditions that campaigners said contributed to his death of an apparent heart attack following a court hearing in June.

Early in Sisi's reign, he showed that he would not tolerate protests, when Egyptian forces killed hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Cairo in 2013.

During his meeting with Trump on 23 September, Sisi suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood is responsible for the recent protests.

Cairo is a key regional ally of Washington and receives about $1.3bn in military aid from the US annually.

Trump has resisted calls for imposing any human rights-related conditions on that assistance, shying away from criticising abuses in Egypt and piling praise on his Egyptian counterpart each time the two leaders meet.