As U.S. political leaders rebuked Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Sunday for his decree to assume sweeping new powers, police in central Cairo fired tear gas at protesters who accused him of a blatant power grab.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said that while the U.S. is thankful for Mr. Morsi’s help facilitating a cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers, he criticized Mr. Morsi’s decision to give himself near-absolute power, which has prompted days of violent street protests in Egypt.
“To assume this kind of power is unacceptable to the United States of America,” Mr. McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The senator warned that Egypt risks a “repeat of the Iranian experience in the 1970s,” referring to the 1979 Iranian revolution in which street demonstrations overthrew the regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a pro-American dictator, only to put into power a repressive Islamist theocracy.
Mr. McCain, who is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. should threaten to withhold billions of dollars in aid to Egypt unless Mr. Morsi returns to a more democratic path.
“This is not what the United States and American taxpayers expect and our dollars will be directly related to the progress towards democracy, which you promised the people of Egypt, when your party and you were elected president,” he said.
“Where did the missiles come from that were being fired [by Hamas on Israel]? Iran. Where are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on the ground? In Syria. The [nuclear] centrifuges continue to spin in Tehran,” he said.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Mr. Morsi “to point out that behind all of this is Iran” and to take a defiant stance against Tehran and its growing influence in the Middle East.
“Iran’s support of Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and the way that is then filtered into weaponry that goes through Egypt into Gaza — if that could be stopped by Egypt … [then that] is going to take leverage away from Iran,” Mr. Levin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“If Egypt will take a strong role here to stop the tunnels from being used for weaponry getting to Gaza, this could lead to a real plus.”
Egyptian protesters clashed Sunday with police in Cairo’s Tahrir Square — birthplace of the popular uprising that last year toppled President Hosni Mubarak — and in the side streets and avenues leading off the plaza.
The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said 267 protesters had been arrested and 164 policemen injured since the unrest began a week ago, initially to mark the anniversary of street protests against the military rulers in place last year.
Fighting between supporters and opponents of Mr. Morsi wasn’t limited to Cairo. A young Muslim was killed Sunday in clashes outside a Muslim Brotherhood office in the town of Damanhour, south of Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, an Islamist leader told Agence France-Presse. It’s the first reported casualty since the Egyptian leader’s constitutional declaration Thursday that places him above oversight of any kind, including that of the courts.
The judiciary has resisted Mr. Morsi’s decrees, as judges and prosecutors stayed away from several courts in Cairo and across much of the country.