By David D. Kirkpatrick
August 8, 2013
Egypt’s military-appointed government said on Wednesday that it was giving up negotiating an end to a five-week-old standoff with the Islamist backers of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, hinting that it might forcibly disperse tens of thousands of them from two sit-ins in the capital.
“The phase of diplomatic efforts has ended,” declared a statement issued in the name of the interim president, Adli Mansour, a senior judge seldom seen since his appointment five weeks ago by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the military commander.
The new government holds the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist group backing Mr. Morsi, “fully responsible for the failure of these efforts and the subsequent events that may result from this failure regarding breaking the law and endangering the social peace,” the statement declared.
And although the two main sit-ins are both open and seemingly nonviolent, the statement called them “no peaceful.”
Coming on the eve of the weekend marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the statement suggested that the new government might capitalize on the holiday’s distraction to try to clear out the sit-ins, or at least that it hoped to end the standoff before Egyptians returned to work after the end of the slower-paced month of fasting.
In its own statement, the Islamist-led group supporting Mr. Morsi, which calls itself the Anti-Coup Coalition, responded by calling on Egyptians in cities and towns across the country to join its protests.
It declared that its movement and demonstrations “have been and will remain completely peaceful and we will continue our peaceful protests no matter what happens to us.”
In a rare joint statement, Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said Wednesday that the chance for reconciliation remained open and vital.
“Deeply concerned about Egypt’s future and what is at stake at this critical time, we have suggested a number of practical ideas to calm current tensions and help Egyptians build a bridge toward a real political dialogue,” the diplomats said.
“These ideas remain available for the parties even now, and our engagement at all levels continues on a daily basis,” Mr. Kerry and Ms. Ashton said, adding that the Egyptian government “bears a special responsibility to begin this process to ensure the safety and welfare of its citizens.”
But after an urgent meeting of Egypt’s interim cabinet, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said Wednesday on state television that the decision to clear the sit-ins was “irreversible.” He said that the clearing could begin any time, and he warned the Islamists against any resistance.
The government has already authorized the police to use force to carry out such an order. Security forces have detained Mr. Morsi, jailed scores of Islamist leaders and killed a total of more than 140 of the ousted president’s supporters in two mass shootings at demonstrations seeking his reinstatement.
But talks aimed at resolving the impasse have nonetheless continued behind the scenes, with envoys from the United States, the European Union, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates all meeting with officials on both sides to broker some resolution.
The Western envoys have said that they sought to persuade the military’s government to release the Islamists while at the same time persuading the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in a renewed democratic process despite its forced ouster. The Islamists dominated Egypt’s first free elections after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and still represent a sizable constituency, especially outside the capital.
In its own statement on Wednesday, however, the government said it had “allowed” the foreign envoys to meet with Brotherhood leaders only to encourage them “to respect the popular will.”
That will, the government said, was manifested through street protests supporting the military takeover.
After 10 days, the statement said, the government had “exhausted the necessary efforts that would encourage the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters to denounce violence and prevent bloodshed.”
Kareem Fahim and Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.