Egypt’s Mursi meets EU envoy as Islamists urge protests

A top European Union official met yesterday with ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who hasn’t been seen in public since his removal and detention earlier this month.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited Mursi for two hours last night and held an ‘in-depth discussion,’’ Ashton’s spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said in a Twitter message without providing additional details.

Mursi has been held at an undisclosed location by the military-backed interim government since his removal on July 3, sparking questions from the EU and U.S. about his well-being. The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mursi to the presidency last year, has called his removal a coup against an elected leader and vowed to hold protests until he’s returned to office.

Ashton met Mursi amid heightened tensions after the killing of dozens of the deposed president’s supporters by security forces over the weekend. The Muslim Brotherhood is defying threats of a government crackdown by urging Mursi backers to march on security installations.

The planned rallies threaten to escalate a conflict that has killed scores of people, mostly Brotherhood supporters, undermining government offers for reconciliation. Egypt’s army-backed administration accuses the Brotherhood of inciting violence to portray itself as a victim.

Earlier yesterday, Ashton met with army leader Abdelfatah al-Seesi and other Egyptian officials in Cairo, and held talks with members of the pro-Mursi camp. Ashton said she would call for a “fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Brotherhood Stance

Mursi’s supporters are open to listening to initiatives if “massacres” committed against them stop, said Hamza Zawba, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political arm.

“If we hear solutions that could be built on, we will talk,” Zawba said by phone from Cairo. If they continue suffering “deaths and injuries, then I think we don’t have any option except for steadfastness and to hold onto our legitimacy.”

Ashton had extended her stay in Cairo until today to hold more meetings, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday, without giving details.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Egyptian authorities to respect the right to peaceful protest, and he called Ashton yesterday to express support for her efforts, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.

Government Warnings

Helicopters yesterday showered the main pro-Mursi sit-in in Cairo’s Nasr City district with pamphlets. “Someone is pushing for chaos to become the law of the streets,” the documents read, according to MENA. “We urge you not to approach a military installation or unit,” they said. “Don’t let anyone push you toward violence or sabotage.”

The Interior Ministry is warning against attacks on state buildings. “Security bodies will confront such attempts with all strength and decisiveness,” it said in a statement yesterday.

The armed forces also cautioned against “any miscalculated attempt to approach military installations and units.” Those who attempt to do so will put themselves “in grave danger and will be confronted,” spokesman Ahmed Ali said yesterday on his official Facebook page.

The ministry said it received information that some Brotherhood supporters were planning to storm a conference hall near their main sit-in. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim has said the protest would be dispersed “very soon.”

Weekend Violence

The weekend violence followed demonstrations by hundreds of thousands in support of al-Seesi’s call for solidarity with the military, as well as counter-rallies by Mursi loyalists. There were violent clashes in Alexandria as well as Cairo, where 80 people died according to official figures, in the deadliest incident since Mursi’s overthrow.

Two Egyptian policemen were killed and another wounded in two separate attacks by unidentified gunmen in northern Sinai, the Interior Ministry said early today in a statement.

The mounting death toll has sparked international concerns. “Time and time again the Egyptian security forces have resorted to lethal force, with complete disregard for human life,” Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

The London-based watchdog said there was evidence that the security forces used “unwarranted live fire” in clashes close to the main Cairo sit-in for Mursi’s supporters. Interior Minister Ibrahim denied his forces opened fire on protesters.

Detention Extended

Egyptian judicial authorities on July 26 extended Mursi’s detention for 15 days after accusing him of conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in murders, abductions, jailbreaks and other attacks on the country’s security buildings, MENA reported.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday that the U.S. “strongly condemns the bloodshed and violence” over the weekend.

“It’s the view of the United States that Egyptian authorities have a moral and legal obligation to respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Earnest told reporters. “And violence not only further sets back the process of reconciliation and democratization in Egypt, but it will negatively impact regional stability.”

The U.S. has had close ties with Egypt’s army for three decades and provides it with about $1.3 billion a year in aid. Last week, the Pentagon said it’s delaying the delivery of four F-16 fighter planes.

‘Far Apart’

Authorities have moved against the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, issuing arrest warrants for leaders and freezing assets. Essam Sultan and Abul-Ela Madi of the Islamist Wasat Party were arrested in the latest crackdown, the state-run Ahram Gate website reported.

The military has also pledged to step up operations against militants in the Sinai peninsula, where attacks on security forces have escalated since Mursi’s fall. Ten “terrorist armed elements” have been killed over the weekend and 20 people arrested, MENA said, citing an unidentified official.

“A negotiated settlement remains unlikely as both sides remain too far apart,” Hani Sabra, Middle East director at the Eurasia Group in New York, said in an e-mailed statement. “The EU’s efforts are likely to fail, despite the fact that it is probably best positioned to broker an agreement between the military and the interim government on one side and the Brotherhood on the other.”

By Bloomberg

 

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