WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel telephoned his Egyptian counterpart on Saturday to voice US concerns about a new Egyptian law that curbs protests and has prompted the arrest of a group of Egyptian girls and political activists, a spokesman said.
Hagel, in a call to Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday morning, said the Egyptian government's approach to free speech would be seen as a demonstration of its "commitment to a non-violent, inclusive and sustainable democratic transition," Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog said in a statement.
The U.S. defense chief is considered an important channel of communications with Egypt because of the close military ties between the two countries.
The United States provides Egypt with about $1.55 billion in aid annually, most of it military assistance. But US officials said in October that the United States would withhold some of that assistance, including weaponry and cash, pending progress on democracy and human rights issues.
The Egyptian protest law, which bans demonstrations without prior police approval, was passed a week ago by the military-backed interim government and has provoked an outcry among rights groups.