The flap over the comments now risks straining ties with Washington. The U.S. State Department on Tuesday said the remarks complicated efforts to provide economic and military aid to Egypt.
Egypt’s economy has tumbled since the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Tourism and foreign investment have dried up, sending Egypt’s foreign currency reserves into a tailspin, dropping by more than half. Now the weakening of Egypt’s currency has sped up.
The U.S. gives $1.3 billion in annual military assistance to Egypt since 1979 peace treaty and now gives Egypt $250 million annually in economic aid. Washington is now considering a package of debt relief and further aid to help salvage the economy.
‘‘All of us are supportive,’’ said McCain. ‘‘We are working hard to try to see that this money is forthcoming.’’
U.S. goodwill is instrumental for securing the IMF loan, seen as key to helping close the budget gap and, more importantly, as a stamp of approval for investors to return.
Egypt’s talks with the IMF were derailed when Morsi balked at implementing highly unpopular tax increases sought under the package. At the same time, political tension has mounted over the newly adopted constitution and moves by Morsi that opponents have denounced as a grab of authority.
Morsi is Egypt’s first freely elected president, but opponents accuse him and the Islamists of trying to sweep up power in the country.
Last year, McCain called on the U.S. to use aid as leverage to push for democratic progress in Egypt. But on Wednesday, he called for patience from the U.S., saying that expectations of democratic transition are high from all sides.
‘‘The fact is that the economy of Egypt is in such condition that it requires expeditious aid to be supplied,’’ the Arizona Republican said. ‘‘It is hard to have democracy when people are not eating.’’
The senators said they have also pressed on Morsi on addressing the criticism by his opponents over the recently adopted constitution, saying that women and minority rights must be protected. They also called for allowing international observers to monitor Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections, likely to be held this spring.
‘‘You are going to have to explain to the world that there is a process to amend the constitution,’’ said Graham, a South Carolina Republican.
Other senators also raised concern about the deteriorating security situation in Sinai, saying they raised the issue with Morsi and Egypt’s Defense Minister, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.