As a U.S. official visited Egypt, ousted President Morsi’s supporters and opponents alike accused the other of receiving U.S. backing.
After initial calls by Egypt’s military-backed interim government for the Muslim Brotherhood to join the political process, prospects for reconciliation have further dimmed as the country’s new leaders issued arrest warrants, froze assets and detained Brotherhood members for criminal investigation.
Brotherhood leaders and followers, meanwhile, have vowed to continue huge protests in the capital, Cairo, demanding that Mohamed Morsi, the nation’s elected but ousted Islamist president, be reinstated. He was removed nearly two weeks ago by the military, who claimed to be fulfilling the demands of the massive nationwide opposition demonstrations that began June 30.
At least seven people were killed and more than 200 were injured in overnight clashes between Islamists and Egyptian riot police, health officials reported Tuesday.
On Monday, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns became the first senior U.S. official to visit Egypt since Morsi was deposed. He pressed the interim leaders to stop the spreading violence and urged for an inclusive transition to a new democratic government.
But as the Brookings Institution’s H.A. Hellyer and other analysts see it, the polarization between pro-Morsi /Brotherhood supporters and those opposed is “deepening.” It is also unclear how the gaps can be bridged between the sharply divided sides to resolve the political crisis that has engulfed Egypt for more than two years since longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak was ousted as president.
Ilya Shlyakhtar, a Harvard researcher, proposes Egypt considers adding a constitutional provision for “recall petitions” that would force early elections, if signed by enough voters. “Such a mechanism would delegitimize military interventions while providing a check against truly bad governments,” Shlyakhtar wrote in a letter to the New York Times.
What is clear, however, is that while Burns has called for inclusive transition, his visit shows that Washington has moved on from Morsi and the Brotherhood. While Egyptian liberals accuse the U.S. of supporting the Brotherhood, others claim it was never comfortable with the Islamic group’s rise to power in Egypt.
The Obama administration also appears to have alienated both sides. It still has refused to say whether Morsi’s removal was a ‘coup,’ which would require it to halt $1.5 billion a year in mostly military aid.
“Egyptians understand that the first priority must be to end violence and incitement, prevent retribution and begin a serious and substantive dialogue among all sides and all political parties,” Burns told reporters after talks with Egypt’s interim president, Judge Adly Mahmoud Mansour, Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Political wrangling becomes more entrenched
But bloody clashes erupted Monday as hundreds of pro-Morsi supporters set fires to block traffic on one of the capital’s main roads and threw rocks at the army as it fired tear gas and pellets into the crowd.
While Burns praised the army for responding to the will of the Egyptian people, he said Washington wants to see the interim government pursue a peaceful democratic transition with a clear roadmap. The roadmap foresees a new constitution and parliamentary elections within six months leading to a civilian government. He called on the military to avoid politically motivated arrests.
“If representatives of some of the largest parties in Egypt are detained or excluded, how are dialogue and participation possible?” Burns asked, referring to the Brotherhood.
So far, the Brotherhood has vehemently rejected participating in the new process saying that would validate what it calls the illegal removal of Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.
Morsi has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location since July 3. Although he has not been charged with a crime, he is being investigated over complaints of treason, inciting violence, economic sabotage and spying. Both the U.S. and Germany have called for his release.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s state prosecutor has ordered the freezing of assets of 14 senior Islamists accused of inciting the violence, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide Mohammed Badie, eight other Brotherhood leaders and five people from other groups.
Brotherhood spokesman Farid Ismail has gone so far as to claim U.S. complicity in the ouster.
“The Americans carried out the military coup. They didn’t just recognize the new leadership, they carried out the coup. We know, and we have specific information about the communications that preceded the coup, which proves that the U.S. planned it and General el-Sissi executed it,” he said.
Morsi advisors claim that U.S. officials had pressed him to reach an agreement with Egyptian generals before his removal and have urged Brotherhood leaders to enter the political process with the new military-led government.
A Brotherhood spokesman said that the representatives from the group spoke with U.S. officials by phone, adding that Burns might meet them before he left Egypt. But it was not known what was said.
The opposition, however, alleges that it was the Brotherhood who worked with the U.S. Both the Tamarud anti-Morsi protest movement that helped bring the president down and the Salafist Nour party turned down the chance to meet Burns.
“First, they need to acknowledge the new system,” Tamarud founder Mahmoud Bader said of the U.S. “Secondly, they must apologize for their support for the Muslim Brotherhood’s party and terrorism. Then we can think about it,” he told Reuters.
The Nour party, Egypt’s other main Islamist group, has said it will not participate in the transition but will not challenge it, and wants veto power over ministerial appointments. It said it would not meet Burns because of “unjustified interference in Egyptian internal affairs and politics” by the United States.
Burns also held talks with human rights activists, business leaders and bishops from Egypt’s Coptic Church, which has been the target of deadly sectarian violence by suspected Morsi supporters.
A new government takes shape
Meanwhile, Egypt’s interim prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi filled senior Cabinet posts on Sunday. He said his cabinet’s priorities are to restore security, ensure the flow of goods and services and prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.
Best known is the prominent reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, a former senior UN diplomat, who was sworn in as Egypt’s interim vice president for international relations. Also notable is Nabil Fahmy, a former Egyptian ambassador to Washington, now the new foreign minister.
El-Beblawi also named veteran World Bank economist, Ahmad Galal, who holds a doctorate from Boston University, as finance minister. Galal undertakes the mammoth task of trying to rescue an economy and state finances wrecked by two and a half years of political turmoil.
His task has been lightened initially by a promise of $12 billion in cash, loans and fuel offered by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. These Gulf Arab states are delighted with the Brotherhood’s downfall and want to aid the interim government, whereas fellow Gulf kingdom Qatar may find its influence waning, having prominently backed the Muslim Brotherhood across the region.
Planning Minister Ashraf al-Arabi, who also served in the post under Morsi, said the funds would sustain Egypt in the transition period. He said the timing was “not appropriate” at the moment to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund.
Last year, Egypt sought $4.8 billion in IMF aid, but months of talks stalled when the government was unable to agree to steep cuts in food and fuel subsidies.
Meanwhile, Burns held out hope that Egypt would not go down the Syrian path into an all-out civil war, despite ongoing violent protests involving Morsi’s supporters and opponents that have led to the deaths of dozens of people.
“I don’t think that Egypt is in danger of repeating the tragedy that we see in Syria today,” he said.