CAIRO – International efforts to resolve Egypt’s political crisis have intensified, including a prison meeting early Monday between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who faces murder charges stemming from weeks of clashes.
U.S. attempts to calm Egypt’s unrest following a military coup last month that overthrew the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, were bolstered by the arrival in Cairo on Monday of Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. They were expected to meet with members of the interim government and Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, commander of the armed forces.
More than 200 people have died in recent weeks in a political showdown between the military-backed government and supporters of Morsi and his Brotherhood movement. Thousands of pro-Morsi protesters have refused to leave their sit-in at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque until the ousted president is reinstated.
It is not certain how much influence the United States, which gives the Egyptian military $1.3 billion in annual aid, may have in resolving the standoff. The Brotherhood and the military are increasingly suspicious of the Obama administration, whose policies here are often described by officials as erratic and self-serving.
The crucial test facing international envoys – including diplomats from Europe, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – is convincing the Brotherhood, which believes its fairly elected president was illegally removed from office, to abandon its protests and rejoin the political process. The Brotherhood has demanded that the military relinquish power and the new government be dissolved.
Burns and other diplomats reportedly met in Tora prison with Khairat Shater, the Brotherhood’s chief strategist and financier. Details of the meeting were not disclosed. International officials were also expected to meet with Saad Katatni, the head of the Brotherhood’s political wing, who is also in jail.
Egypt’s Ahram Online news website reported that Shater and foreign mediators “have offered a prospect for a deal that could ‘reduce political heat’ and ‘avert further violence and bloodshed.’ ”
But the Brotherhood, at least publicly, appears not to be backing down. The group’s spokesman, Gehad El-Haddad, tweeted after the envoys’ meeting with Shater: “Both @ahramonline & @Independent stories of negotiations & deals r fictional. Our position of full reversal of #Military_Coup is unchanged.”
The government has been just as adamant. It reiterated Monday that it would not alter the army’s “political roadmap,” which calls for amending the Islamist-drafted constitution and holding parliamentary elections in early 2014. The army and police have urged protesters to evacuate from their tent city at Rabaa al-Adawiya and are expected to impose a security blockade around the area.