CAIRO: Two high-profile US senators arrived on Tuesday to hold talks in Cairo in a latest push from a growing diplomatic flurry to defuse a crisis sparked by the military’s overthrow of Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham arrived on Monday evening for talks with main players in the stand-off between Morsi’s supporters and Egypt’s army-appointed new authorities.
Egypt’s political crisis, sparked by the military’s July 3 ouster of Morsi, has paralysed the country and deepened political polarisation and social divisions.
Morsi loyalists, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, say the removal of the country’s first freely elected president was a violation of democratic principles and nothing short of his reinstatement would end their sit-ins.
The interim leadership says there is no turning back on the army-drafted roadmap that provides for new elections in 2014.
More than 250 people have been killed since Morsi’s ouster.
As tensions mounted over the looming break-up of two major sit-ins staged by Morsi loyalists, Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei urged the Brotherhood to find a peaceful way out of the crisis and appealed to Egypt’s media to stop “demonising” the group.
He called on the Brotherhood “to join the peaceful solutions. Don’t count on the security forces dispersing the sit-ins by force, causing a massacre and turning you into victims.”
Such a scenario “would only increase the people’s anger against you.”
But the Brotherhood is standing its ground.
The group’s spokesperson Gehad al-Haddad says on Twitter:
Only a political solution 2 restore continuity of constitutional #legitimacy will end crisis & end state of “illegitimate representation”
In recent days, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, EU foreign policy supremo Catherine Ashton, EU envoy Bernardino Leon, Arab diplomats, an African delegation and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have all travelled to Cairo in a bid to defuse the crisis.
Leon met Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi on Monday after he and Burns met the day before with the number two of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, Khairat al-Shater, in prison.
A spokesperson for the State Department in Washington said that Burns and Leon had visited Shater on Sunday, accompanied by the foreign ministers of regional US allies Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The spokesperson, Marie Harf, said that the visit was intended to “prevent further violence, calm tensions and facilitate an inclusive dialogue among Egyptians that can help the transition to a democratically elected civilian government”.
However, Morsi’s deputy gave the delegation a cold shoulder, according Haddad.
Shater refused to discuss the situation with the envoys, saying only that the Brotherhood’s position on defending Morsi’s legitimacy was “unchanged”.
Authorities have promised demonstrators a safe exit and said an end to their protests would allow the Muslim Brotherhood to return to political life.
Morsi himself has been formally remanded in custody on suspicion of offences committed when he escaped from prison during the 2011 revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
State department spokesperson Harf said that “as of now”, Burns had no plans to meet Morsi.
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also met with several influential Islamist leaders on Sunday to mediate a solution with the Brotherhood.
But Yasser Ali, spokesperson for the pro-Morsi demonstrators, said the clerics had met Sisi “without having been mandated”.
Sisi, who also met Burns during the envoy’s visit, has urged Washington to use its “leverage” with the Muslim
Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy has stressed that authorities have “no desire to use force if there is any other avenue that has not been exhausted”.
But the violence continued on Monday, with a soldier shot dead and two others wounded in two separate attacks in the Sinai Peninsula.
Gunmen shot at an army checkpoint outside a military building in the north Sinai town of El-Arish, killing one soldier, security officials said.
The two other servicemen were wounded when gunmen attacked another checkpoint outside a bank.
Security in Sinai has deteriorated since Morsi’s overthrow and the latest death brings to 32 the number of security forces killed in the area.