Top EU diplomat urges Egypt's leaders, Islamist backers of ousted president to work together

  • Article by: SARAH EL DEEB , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 17, 2013 - 6:30 PM

Egyptian riot police stand guard during a demonstration by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 17, 2013.

Photo: Khalil Hamra, Associated Press - Ap

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CAIRO — The European Union's top foreign policy official urged Egypt's interim leaders and supporters of the ousted Islamist president Wednesday to cooperate in a political process that moves the country toward democracy. But Mohammed Morsi's backers expanded their protests in Cairo, denouncing the new government and casting doubt on the prospects for reconciliation.

The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, has rejected the new political order and demanded the reinstatement of Egypt's first democratically elected president two weeks after he was toppled by the military.

There was no sign that protests were dying down, a day after the interim president swore in a 34-member Cabinet that included several prominent figures from liberal and secular factions as well as officials who served under the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak — but no Islamists.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was the second foreign dignitary to visit Egypt this week, and the first to meet with Muslim Brotherhood officials since the July 3 coup, which followed mass protests calling for Morsi to step down.

Ashton also met with interim President Adly Mansour, his vice president Mohammed ElBaradei, army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and members of Tamarod, or Rebel, the movement that sparked the huge demonstrations against Morsi's year-old rule.

Ashton said she stressed in all her meetings the need for a political process that includes all sides, but acknowledged that the players are deeply divided.

"It is important not just for (the Brotherhood's political party) but for all those involved in the future of the country to know that the future really is about ensuring that everybody can be engaged," Ashton told reporters at the end of her one-day visit to Cairo. "Inclusivity means that you have to move forward and you have to find a way that those who wish to participate in the future can do so."

She was the second foreign official bearing that message this week.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns was in Cairo on Monday. He met with Mansour and el-Sissi, but the State Department said he spoke to a Muslim Brotherhood official only on the telephone.

Ashton also said she has asked for the release of Morsi, who has been held in an undisclosed military facility since his ouster.

"I was assured that he is well. I would have liked to have seen him and I was assured that he is being well cared for," she said.

Morsi has not been charged with any crimes, although five of the top Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been detained and accused, among other things, of inciting violence. The group's television station has been shut down since July 3.

On Wednesday, a government official said more than 20 diplomatic passports of Morsi, his aides and family have been revoked because they no longer hold official positions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The international community has been trying to contain the chaos that erupted after Morsi's overthrow and push Egypt back on the road to democratic rule. Morsi won last year's elections with a narrow majority, but many Egyptians accused him of acting authoritarian, giving undue influence to the Muslim Brotherhood and failing to effectively tackle any of the country's pressing problems — from a free-falling economy to tenuous security and high unemployment.

Amr Darag, a member of the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said his party saw no way to reconcile with the current government as long as Morsi remains detained and his group is subjected to a security crackdown.

"It is not about parties and personalities. It is about the future of democracy in Egypt," Darag told reporters after his meeting with Ashton, also attended by former Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, who headed Morsi's government. "Our position, and the position of those on the streets whose numbers are increasing by the day, is that it is very difficult to accept a path where the military is again in control," Darag said.

He said the new leadership has not reached out to his group and is instead trying to "demonize" it.

"How can there be reconciliation when the elected legitimate president is detained and we don't know where he is?" Darag said. "There are senior political leaders who are held under silly accusations."

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