x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

US joins UAE, Qatar and EU in Egypt crisis mediation

UAE and Qatar play key roles in flurry of diplomatic activity to mediate between Egypt's dangerously divided political camps. Bradley Hope and Elizabeth Dickinson report

Egypt's vice president Mohamed ElBaradei (right) talks with US deputy secretary of state William Burns (centre) during a meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo.
Egypt's vice president Mohamed ElBaradei (right) talks with US deputy secretary of state William Burns (centre) during a meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo.

CAIRO //Two prominent US senators joined diplomats from the UAE, Qatar and the European Union in Cairo yesterday in renewed efforts to mediate between Egypt's dangerously divided political camps.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham arrived as the diplomats shuttled between government officials, military generals and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The proliferation of mediators in Cairo is an "all-hands-on-deck" policy aimed at averting a further escalation of violence on the streets, said Shadi Hamid, fellow at the Brookings Centre in Doha.

As both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood have dug in to their positions in recent days, American and European mediators have turned to the two regional allies - the UAE and Qatar - who arguably have the closest relationships with the warring sides.

The diplomats' presence appears to have bought time and averted fresh violence, which many had feared could erupt after Egypt's ministry of interior threatened to forcibly clear two sit-ins filled with thousands of protesters.

The demonstrators in Rabaa Adaweya and Nahda squares in Cairo have vowed to stay put until the Islamist former president Mohammed Morsi, deposed by the military on July 3, is reinstated.

The interim government installed by the military has called on the Brotherhood to accept Mr Morsi's removal and take part in a national reconciliation initiative, but the group refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the government.

More than 200 demonstrators have died in clashes with security forces in the past month, many of them supporters of Mr Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

Mediators have tried to try to defuse tensions, but after two days of meetings in Cairo the rifts between the interim government's and the Brotherhood's public statements remained vast.

The spokesman for the interim president, Ahmed Al Muslemani, said yesterday not a "single step" would be changed in the military-backed political road map announced when the army ousted Mr Morsi.

The Egyptian public prosecutor will bring several Brotherhood officials, including its supreme guide Mohammed Badie and top financier Khairat El Shater, to trial on August 25 on charges of inciting violence against Egyptians last month.

The arrest and trial of Brotherhood members and supporters, as well as street clashes, have increased the opposition's resolve.

Late on Sunday, officials from the UAE and Qatar, the US deputy secretary of state William Burns and the European Union envoy Bernardino Leon met Mr Al Shater in Tora prison south of Cairo, the state news agency Mena said yesterday.

Gehad El Haddad, spokesman for the Brotherhood, said on his Twitter account that Mr El Shater had refused to meet the envoys, and told them to speak to Mr Morsi.

Mr Burns and Mr Leon also met the army chief Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Khaled Al Attiyah and the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash, a US state department official said.

The UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed also met the interim prime minister, Hazem El Beblawi, Wam reported. Mr Burns had a separate meeting with Mr El Beblawi, and his deputy, Ziad Baha Eddin, the US state department official said.

Mr Mansour's spokesman said the envoys were also scheduled to meet another Brotherhood leader, Saad El Katatni, late yesterday.

There have been no official comments about any proposed agreement, but several scenarios have been aired in the past week, including the release of Mr Morsi and other Brotherhood officials from prison without charges if they accept the new government. The Brotherhood's demands may include the appointment of a new prime minister and a pledge that Gen El Sisi, who led the action to oust Mr Morsi, would play no role in politics.

The UAE's and Qatar's entrance into the political talks indicates the seriousness with which western officials view Egypt's continuing turmoil.

"The UAE is a major player now after their commitment of billions of dollars of aid, so they have leverage," said Mr Hamid. The UAE has pledged Dh11 billion in aid to the new government.

Qatar meanwhile has "the closest relationship with the Brotherhood", Mr Hamid said. "It makes sense for them to encourage the Brotherhood to consider certain concessions - to be a little more flexible in its negotiating position."

The UAE-Qatar joint push is also notable in itself for the potential thaw it may indicate in relations between the two countries, who have in the past differed in their policy toward Egypt.

While Doha embraced the rise of political Islam after the Arab Spring, pouring billions of dollars of aid into the country under Mr Morsi's rule, the UAE remained wary of the Brotherhood-led government.

Qatar did, however, recognise the new government after Mr Morsi was ousted, a possible move towards a broader Arabian Gulf consensus. Notably, Doha has pledged to continue the aid it promised Cairo before the transition, including discounted shipments of natural gas, which are expected to begin arriving tomorrow.

Recognising the new government "allows Qatar to play a more active role; they are not seen as polarising as they were before", said Mr Hamid.

But a rising tide of xenophobia has added to the mediators' challenges, as critics on both sides of the political battle have called on foreign countries to stay out of Egyptian affairs.

Supporters of the military have criticised the US and Europe for siding with Mr Morsi's camp and ignoring millions of anti-Morsi protesters who took to the streets on the anniversary of his inauguration to call for early presidential elections.

Similarly, pro-Morsi demonstrators have criticised the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia and the UAE for not condemning the removal of a democratically elected president, and do not accept them as mediators.

Brotherhood officials said yesterday they were adamant that a solution could be reached only through democratic means.

"Democratic processes are the only way out: the return of Morsi, the reinstatement of the constitution and the reconvening of the Shura Council," said Mohamed Shehata, a member of the central law committee of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. "The world is only dancing on the carnage of Egyptians."

bhope@thenational.ae

edickinson@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Jahd Khalil

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