CAIRO — Egypt’s detained ex-president is well and keeping up to date with developments through news media, the top EU diplomat said Monday after she made the first visit since a military coup deposed him July 3.
Catherine Ashton of the European Union told reporters she had a long late-night meeting with Morsi. She said she saw the facility where he is being held but did not know where it is.
It was Morsi’s first contact with the outside world since he was toppled in a military coup on July 3.
Ashton also called for an inclusive political process and an end to the violence that has left Egypt deeply divided between opponents and supporters of the ousted Islamist leader.
Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans one holding a picture of Morsi with Arabic writing that reads: "Morsi is my president," at Nasr City, where protesters have installed a camp and hold daily rallies, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, July 29, 2013. Europe's top diplomat urged Egypt's government to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood as she worked Monday to mediate an end to the country's increasingly bloody crisis, while the mainly Islamist protesters calling for the return of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi massed for more protests. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
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She was allowed to meet with Morsi for two hours Monday evening, saying she was able to see the facilities where Morsi is being held, but she does not know his location.
Ashton was not blindfolded, but the location of her meeting with Morsi remained shrouded in mystery. EU officials put their “faith fully in the interim authorities to make sure that she got there safely and returned safely which is what turned out to be the case. Everything was fine,” EU spokesman Michael Mann said.
EU security personnel must have had enough guidance on travel and location to back the exceptional excursion. “She would not have gone had she not been happy with the security arrangements,” said Mann.
Ashton said Morsi “has access to information, in terms of TV and newspapers, so we were able to talk about the situation, and we were able to talk about the need to move forward.”
“I sent him good wishes from people here, and he asked me to pass on wishes back, and of course I’ve tried to make sure that his family knows that he is well,” she said.
She declined to reveal more details about their conversation.
Her three-day trip to Cairo was her second since the military coup, as she tries to help find a way out of an increasingly bloody and complex crisis in Egypt that has killed more than 270 people. She said she returned to Cairo at the request of several interlocutors in Egypt and elsewhere so that the EU could engage with different political parties.
Ashton also met with the country’s interim leadership, including army chief and Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as well as representatives of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in search of a path out of the crisis.
“This great country has to move forward and has to do so in an inclusive way,” she said.
Interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei also said the top priority was to end all violence first, then to engage in a process that includes the Muslim Brotherhood as the country tries to rebuild after more than two years of turmoil that began with the 2011 uprising that ousted autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.
He described the ouster of Morsi as a “correction” to the path Egypt has taken since Mubarak was toppled.
Despite ElBaradei’s appeal, neither side showed any sign of willingness to make the concessions needed for reconciliation. The Brotherhood rejects calls to work with the new leaders, insists that Morsi be reinstated and called for more protests today.
The government, meanwhile, has made no conciliatory gestures in its crackdown on the Brotherhood and has forged ahead with a transition plan that provides for parliamentary and presidential elections early next year.
Speaking to reporters alongside Ashton, ElBaradei said an inclusive approach is needed, but one that works within the framework of the military-backed roadmap.
“Our immediate priority, as we shared with Lady Ashton, is to stop violence in all its forms and shape and try every possible way to find a peaceful solution,” he said. “I very much hope that the Brotherhood, the Salafis... liberals, everybody who is Egyptian has to be part of that process.”
He said that “Morsi failed,” but that once violence ends and dialogue begins then all options are on the table. He did not elaborate.
Egypt’s army-backed administration originally said they were holding Morsi for his own safety, but last week authorities announced he was being detained pending an investigation into allegations he conspired with the Palestinian militant group Hamas to enable him and several other Brotherhood members to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.
Egypt’s interim presidency says he “is not a political prisoner” and the issue is in the hands of the judiciary. His supporters and family have decried his detention as illegal and called for his release.
Ashton said she has made clear to all sides of the conflict that “there is no place for violence in this and that peaceful demonstration is important.” She said authorities also “have a huge responsibly to make sure that happens.”
“I am not here to ask people to do things,” she added. “I am here to find out where the common ground might be, the confidence-building measures could be, that can help everybody move forward.”
After their talks with Ashton, a delegation of Islamist politicians representing the pro-Morsi camp said the military-backed government must take the first step toward any reconciliation by releasing jailed Brotherhood leaders, ending the crackdown on their protests and stopping media campaigns against Islamists.
“Creating the atmosphere requires those in authority now to send messages of reassurance,” Mohammed Mahsoub, of the Islamist Wasat Party, told reporters.
Speaking alongside a Brotherhood official and another Islamist politician, Mahsoub appeared to be sticking by the demand to reinstate Morsi by saying any solution must be on a “constitutional basis.”
But a spokesman for interim President Adly Mansour suggested Monday that his administration would not deviate from the transition plan.
“The ship has sailed and we have no way but to go forward,” Mansour’s spokesman Ahmed el-Musalamani said.