x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Egypt on the brink as mediation talks fail

President says diplomatic efforts are over and prime minister warns Brotherhood as country's leading Islamic centre Al Azhar calls for new negotiations after Eid. Alice Fordham reports from Cairo

An Egyptian man stands by a defensive barrier made of sandbags near a protest by members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
An Egyptian man stands by a defensive barrier made of sandbags near a protest by members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

CAIRO // Islamist protesters face an imminent crackdown after high-level international attempts to resolve Egypt's political stand-off collapsed yesterday.

"Diplomatic efforts ended today," the office of president Adly Mansour said after more two weeks of efforts by diplomats from the the UAE, Qatar, the United States, Europe and the African Union to bridge the gap between the interim government and the Islamist regime that preceded it.

"The state gave room for all necessary efforts to be exhausted in order to urge the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters to reject violence, prevent bloodshed and cease the disruption of Egyptian society by holding its future hostage," it said.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, who led the UAE mediation team as Foreign Minister, thanked Mr Mansour and his government for its cooperation with international diplomats in seeking an end to the political crisis.

"The group sought through its work over the past few days to end the sit-in, this being an element of tension and posing a danger to public safety and community peace. The group was also keen to restore normal life to Egypt," Sheikh Abdullah said.

Egypt's prime minister Hazem Al Beblawi went on television to declare that two large sit-ins in Cairo squares by supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi would be cleared.

"The decision to disperse the Rabaa Al Adaweya and Nahda sit-ins is a final decision," he said. "There is no going back on it."

The wording was similar to an announcement last week ordering the interior ministry to break up the without giving a time frame, but added to a growing sense that the Islamist-led rallies would be forcefully broken up soon.

More than 130 people have been killed in the past month, mostly protesters, in clashes between the Islamist demonstrators and interior ministry forces and soldiers. Many protesters say they will die rather than leave the sit-in before Mr Morsi is reinstated.

A leading Brotherhood figure, Mohammed El Beltagy, said the protesters were not concerned by renewed threats to remove them.

"What we care about is for there to be clear talks about our position against the military coup and the importance of returning legitimacy," Mr El Beltagy said at the main protest site in the capital's Nasr City neighbourhood.

Brotherhood officials have insisted they will not negotiate with the new authorities until Mr Morsi is reinstated. Since he is being investigated on charges of espionage and collusion with the Palestinian group Hamas, and other Brotherhood leaders are charged with killing protesters, this seems unlikely.

With hopes of an internationally-mediated reconciliation fading, the leading Islamic centre Al Azhar called for talks on the crisis after the Eid holiday, raising the prospect of a national dialogue session rather than one helped by foreign facilitators.

"There are some initiatives that can be built on to start national reconciliation," an Al Azhar official said.

A spokesman for the EU envoy Catherine Ashton, who met Mr Morsi in the secret location where he is being held and has encouraged participation from all Egypt's political factions in talks, said the EU was concerned.

"The EU is urging all political groups to find a peaceful solution to the current stalemate. We are present on the ground talking to all sides."

The US deputy secretary of state Willam Burns left Egypt yesterday after meetings with government officials and the Islamist opposition since August 2.

Egypt's attitude to the US, both officially and among the public, has grown increasingly ambivalent.

American officials have determined that the military removal of Mr Morsi was not a coup, and on Tuesday the defence minister Gen Abdel Fattah El Sisi spoke to his American counterpart Chuck Hagel.

Gen El Sisi, "thanked Secretary Hagel for US support and ongoing diplomatic efforts to prevent further violence, calm tensions, and facilitate an inclusive dialogue to pave the way forward for transition to a democratically elected civilian government", according to an American statement.

But in a recent interview with the Washington Post, Gen Sisi accused the US of turning its back on the Egyptian people, and on Tuesday American senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham responded by saying there had been a military coup.

Supporters of Mr Morsi have also condemned the US, and said that it along with other nations supported the military removal of Mr Morsi.

afordham@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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