Egypt mired in political stalemate

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REUTERS

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi shout slogans during a march from Al-Fath Mosque to the defence ministry, in Cairo.

Cairo - Egypt was mired in political stalemate on Wednesday despite the diplomatic efforts of a top EU official, with the threat that protests will be forcibly dispersed hanging overhead.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton flew out empty-handed on Tuesday, after three days of talks aimed at finding “common ground” between the army-installed interim government and supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

The rival camps appeared as entrenched as ever in their positions, despite her efforts which included Morsi's first visit since his detention hours after his July 3 ouster by the army.

The international community made clear it would continue to push for reconciliation, with the EU saying on Wednesday that its Middle East envoy would arrive later in the day to continue Ashton's efforts.

In Washington, two leading senators said the White House had asked them to head to Cairo to push for an “inclusive, democratic approach.”

But on the ground, there seemed little sign of compromise.

Late on Tuesday, Morsi loyalists marched towards a military intelligence building in Cairo, in defiance of warnings from the army to avoid approaching its facilities.

The march passed off peacefully, with demonstrators stopping short of the building and returning to their main protest camp by the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

The interior ministry has warned that the camp will be cleared soon, and tensions remain high after the deaths of 82 people at a pro-Morsi rally on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Ashton said she had had a “friendly, open and very frank discussion” with Morsi at the undisclosed location outside Cairo where he is being held.

“Morsi is well,” she told reporters after the two-hour meeting.

“He has access to information in terms of TV, newspapers, so we were able to talk about the situation and we were able to talk about the need to move forward.”

Ashton said her discussions with Morsi and his supporters, and interim government officials were intended to “facilitate the bringing together of ideas.”

“I don't come here to say somebody should do this, somebody should do that, this is your country,” she said.

She met with army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, interim president Adly Mansour and vice president Mohamed ElBaradei, as well as a pro-Morsi coalition.

But in the wake of the talks, neither side appeared to have shifted their positions, with ElBaradei insisting Morsi would have no political role and his supporters continuing to demand his reinstatement.

“Mr Morsi failed but the Brotherhood continues very much to be part of the political process,” ElBaradei said, adding that ending violence would be his first priority.

Foreign minister Nabil Fahmy too underlined in an interview with France 24 that “Egypt... has Islamists and they should be part of the future.”

Ashton said she would return to Egypt at a later date, and EU spokesman Michael Mann said on Wednesday that the bloc's Middle East envoy Bernardino Leon would be in Cairo later to “continue the contacts and mediation efforts.”

In Washington, Senator Lindsey Graham said he and fellow Republican John McCain would head to Cairo at the White House's request.

“The president asked Senator McCain and myself to go to Egypt next week, so we're trying to find a way to get there,” Graham told CBS television.

The visit would “reinforce in a bipartisan fashion the message that we have to move to civilian control -- that the military is going to have to allow the country to have new elections and move toward an inclusive, democratic approach,” he said.

Hanging over the stalemate is a fear of renewed violence, after 82 people, including a police officer, were killed at a pro-Morsi protest in Cairo on Saturday.

The interior ministry has said it plans to disperse the pro-Morsi sit-ins “soon,” although it pledged to do so as peacefully as possible.

Sporadic violence has continued throughout the country, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula, where two soldiers and three policemen were killed in shootings on Monday and Tuesday. - AFP

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