Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Egyptian Military-Backed Regime Orders Police to Remove Opposition From the Streets

Egypt’s government tells police to break up pro-Morsi protests

By Michael Birnbaum and Abigail Hauslohner, Updated: Wednesday, July 31, 11:37 AM
New York Times

CAIRO — Egypt’s military-backed government on Wednesday ordered the police to break up demonstrations in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, saying the protests pose an “unacceptable threat” to national security, the Associated Press reported.

Morsi backers have camped out in two locations in Cairo — outside a mosque and a university campus — ever since the July 3 coup. Egypt’s interim leaders appear increasingly determined to clear the pro-Morsi demonstrators away – a process that would likely be tremendously violent. Dozens of protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces in recent weeks.

In a televised statement, Information Minister Dorreya Sharaf el-Din said police are to end the demonstrations “within the law and the constitution,” AP reported.

Late Tuesday, Morsi was visited by a group of African Union officials, the second time in recent days he has been allowed to meet with a foreign delegation after being held incommunicado for four weeks.

News of the meeting came as Morsi’s former prime minister was ordered to prison for a year. The ruling by a Cairo misdemeanor court against former Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, who was not a member of the Morsi-affiliated Muslim Brotherhood but was seen as sympathetic to Islamists, further broadens the wide-scale crackdown on Morsi allies, with an increasing number of Islamist politicians and leaders being arrested and thrown in jail.

But Egypt’s government also has allowed more access to Morsi since Monday, raising the possibility of some sort of negotiation between the president who was deposed on July 3 and his successors.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with Morsi late Monday. Neither she nor the African Union group disclosed where Morsi is being held or the substance of their conversations, although both delegations said that Morsi appeared to be doing well. The African Union delegation met with him for an hour late Tuesday, a member said at a Wednesday news conference.

Qandil, a technocratic prime minister who served during Morsi’s year in office, was ordered to a year in prison by Judge Mohamed el-Sawy after losing an appeal of a court ruling decided April 9. The case stemmed from a 2005 decision to privatize a state-owned company, seven years before Qandil took office. An administrative court ordered that Qandil’s cabinet undo the privatization; it did not, and Qandil was held liable for the failure to uphold the order.

Egypt’s judiciary, comprised largely of appointees from the time of former President Hosni Mubarak, tangled frequently with Morsi and his associates, and the April 9 ruling was one of those instances.

Ashton’s Monday meeting with Morsi was the first contact with an independent official since he was taken into military custody almost a month ago. By allowing the meeting, Egypt’s military signaled that it may be willing to work with Morsi toward a political solution to the country’s ongoing crisis, which has spawned repeated violence between security forces and the ousted president’s supporters.

Ashton, a low-key British diplomat, said she was taken by military helicopter late Monday to meet with Morsi. She declined to go into detail about her two-hour conversation with him, but she said he had access to newspapers and television and was in good condition.

After her meeting with Morsi, Ashton met Tuesday with Egypt’s interim vice president, Mohamed ElBaradei, a liberal leader and key interlocutor for the military-backed interim government. He said at a joint appearance with Ashton that he thought Morsi had “failed” during his year in power but that his Muslim Brotherhood allies should be part of the new political “road map” going forward.

“We would very much like them to be part of the political process,” said ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who has been slow to criticize the security forces’ crackdown on pro-Morsi demonstrations.

Ashton’s two-day visit appeared to have at least temporarily calmed the tense capital after a weekend of violence left at least 80 pro-Morsi demonstrators and a police officer dead, according to the Health Ministry. Morsi’s supporters rallied in Cairo on Tuesday night and marched toward the military intelligence headquarters, although no violence had been reported by early Wednesday.

During her trip, Ashton met with a wide range of Egyptian political figures, including Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the commander of the armed forces; liberal activists and politicians who supported the coup; and a hard-line Islamist party that backed Morsi’s removal but has since wavered in its support for the military. She also met with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ashton said Monday that she hoped the meetings would facilitate conversations that might lead to a political solution. But she stressed that Egyptians, and particularly those in power, must ensure that the country moves forward along a democratic path.

“In all of my conversations, we have emphasized a few things,” Ashton said. “First of all, we are here to help. We are not here to impose. The people of Egypt will determine their own future.”

Although Ashton has sometimes struggled during her E.U. tenure to publicly articulate a unified message on behalf of the bloc’s 28 member nations, she is known as a charming envoy behind closed doors. She has previously been involved in tough international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In Cairo on Tuesday, her reticence about the substance of her conversation with Morsi appeared at least partly intended to help jump-start discussions between the interim government and the ousted Brotherhood-backed leaders.

Officials from the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, from which Morsi hails, told Ashton that any political solution for Egypt must be based on “the return of the president,” the party said in a statement.

The statement said the demonstrations in support of Morsi would not stop until “constitutional legitimacy” was restored. His backers have used that phrase to refer to returning him to power, as well as to reinstating the country’s Islamist-dominated parliament and the constitution ratified under Morsi through a popular referendum.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone Tuesday with Sissi, a Hagel spokesman said, adding that the secretary urged “restraint” in dealing with protesters and called for “an inclusive reconciliation process.”

Amer Shakhatreh also contributed to this story.

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