ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
CAIRO — Egypt’s highest security body warned today that the clock is ticking for a peaceful end to the standoff over sit-ins by ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters, suggesting that authorities will break up the vigils unless mediation efforts produce results soon.
More than a month after the military overthrew Morsi, tens of thousands of the Islamist leader’s supporters remain camped out in two main crossroads in Cairo demanding his reinstatement. Egypt’s military-backed interim leadership has issued a string of warnings for them to disperse or security forces will move in, setting the stage for a potential bloody showdown.
Also today, authorities announced a court case accusing the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and his powerful deputy of inciting murder will start Aug. 25. Morsi hails from the Brotherhood.
The U.S. and EU are trying to find a peaceful resolution to the standoff to avoid a repeat of deadly street violence that has killed more than 250 people — at least 130 of which were pro-Morsi protesters shot dead by security forces in two bloody clashes — since the July 3 military coup.
A senior U.S. official stayed on in Cairo for an extra day today to hold another round of talks with officials on both sides of the political divide. While diplomats raced to find a compromise, the Egyptian interim government signaled that its patience with the pro-Morsi camp was running out.
The National Defense Council, which is led by the interim president and includes top Cabinet ministers, said the search for a peaceful resolution is not open-ended. The council said a negotiated resolution also would not shield what it called “law-breakers” and others who incite against the state from legal proceedings.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
It said a chance should be given to all “negotiations and mediations” that could end the protests without bloodshed, but that the timeframe should be “defined and limited and ... not infringe on the law and the rights of citizens.” It also called on the protesters to abandon the sit-ins and join the political road map announced the day of Morsi’s ouster.
With the Islamist-backed constitution adopted last year suspended and the legislature dominated by Morsi’s supporters dissolved, the road map provides for a new or an amended constitution to be put to a national referendum later this year and presidential and parliamentary elections early in 2014
In a move that underlined the government’s resolve in dealing with the protests — now in their second month — Egyptian authorities today denied Yemen’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman entry into Egypt after she landed at Cairo airport today.
Karman, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace prize, has stated her opposition to Egypt’s military coup and said she had intended to join the pro-Morsi sit-in protests.
Airport officials said she was sent back on the today flight that brought her to Cairo from the United Arab Emirates. They did not say why she was denied entry, only that her name had been placed on a list. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The decision to bar Karman suggests authorities wanted to deny the pro-Morsi camp the publicity she would have generated and the lift her presence would have given to the Islamists’ argument that the outcry over Morsi’s ouster is shared by prominent figures outside Egypt.
Karman shared the Nobel Peace prize in 2011 with Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and women’s rights campaigner Leymah Gbowee. She earned it for her role in the protests that swept Yemen in 2011 to force longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh from office. Saleh stepped down last year, handing over power to his deputy as part of a transition plan.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
Pro-Morsi protesters blocked a major road today that runs through most of the city and leads to its international airport.
Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns extended his visit to Cairo by one day so he can have further talks with Egyptian leaders. He met Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, who led the coup, today. A member of the pro-Morsi delegation that met Saturday with Burns said the four delegates also would hold another round of talks with the U.S. diplomat.
At the core of discussions is the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies. The Brotherhood says it is looking for concessions before beginning talks with the military-backed administration. These measures could include releasing detained Brotherhood leaders, unfreezing the group’s assets, lifting a ban on Islamist television stations loyal to Morsi and reigning in the use of force against its protesters.
Morsi has been held at undisclosed locations since July 3. He faces accusations of comprising with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape prison in 2011. Morsi has been visited by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and a delegation of African statesmen. Ashton reported that he was well and had access to television and newspapers.
Egypt’s state news agency said today Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and his deputy Khairat el-Shater are to stand trial Aug. 25 for complicity and incitement in the killing of eight demonstrators outside the group’s Cairo headquarters.
Badie is at still large, while el-Shater is in custody.
The killings took place during the first day of the mass street protests calling for Morsi’s ouster. The agency also said that senior Brotherhood figure Rashad Bayoumi will face trial on the same charges. Three others face murder charges in the same case.
Morsi’s palace aides Rifaah el-Tahtawi and Asaad el-Sheikha meanwhile faced questions over allegations they illegally held and tortured anti-Morsi protesters last Dec. 5 after supporters of the ousted leader descended upon a group of unarmed demonstrators camped outside the presidential palace. Clashes lasting all day left at least 10 dead and hundreds injured.
Both el-Tahtawi and el-Sheikha are in detention.