A senior US envoy joined intense efforts in Cairo on Sunday to try to resolve a political crisis pitting supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi against Egypt’s army-backed interim leaders.
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, a military source said, stressing the need for national reconciliation based on an army-drafted roadmap providing for elections in 2014.
Sisi sat down earlier with Islamist leaders to try to mediate a solution with Morsi supporters who have staged two major sit-ins for more than a month demanding his reinstatement.
He met with “several representatives of the Islamist movements… and stressed that there are opportunities for a peaceful solution to the crisis provided all sides reject violence,” army spokesman Colonel Ahmed Aly said in a statement.
Among those attending the talks with Sisi were influential Salafist clerics Sheikh Mohammed Hassan and Mohammed Abdel Salam, who just days ago was addressing pro-Morsi supporters from the stage at a sit-in in Rabaa al-Adawiya.
“The Islamists who met Sisi, while not members of the Muslim Brotherhood, have been supporting them at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in. Hopefully, the Brotherhood will listen to what they have to say to find a way out of the crisis,” a source close to the talks said.
Several days of heated diplomatic activity in the Egyptian capital have seen visits by Burns, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and an African Union delegation lead by former Mali president Alpha Oumar Konare.
Konare said his team had met “with all parties it wanted to meet… in complete freedom” during their week-long visit.
Supporters of Morsi — Egypt’s first freely-elected president– see his July 3 ouster by the military as a violation of democracy and have insisted that nothing short of his reinstatement would end their protests.
Authorities have repeatedly called on them to go home, promising them that a safe exit would allow Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to return to political life.
After meeting Burns, the Brotherhood’s political arm stressed its continued commitment to “legitimacy, which stipulates the return of the president, the constitution and the Shura Council,” or upper house of parliament.
Burns’s visit, which followed trips by Ashton and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, was the latest move in a diplomatic drive to break the deadlock.
The Islamists’ latest declaration suggested that Burns had failed to shift their position.
“We affirm our welcome of any political solutions proposed on the basis of constitutional legitimacy and rejection of the coup,” said the Freedom and Justice Party statement.
Burns also met foreign minister Nabil Fahmy in a bid to broker a compromise between the two sides.
Washington also kept up the pressure from afar, with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel urging Sisi to support an “inclusive political process,” the Pentagon said.
The diplomatic push came as the Washington Post published an interview with Sisi, who lashed out at Washington, urging it to pressure Morsi supporters to end their rallies.
“The US administration has a lot (of) leverage and influence with the Muslim Brotherhood and I’d really like the US administration to use this leverage with them to resolve the conflict,” he said.
He said that police, not the military, would be charged with dispersing the protests, and insisted that millions of Egyptians “are waiting for me to do something.”
Tensions have spiked over a looming police bid to dismantle the pro-Morsi sit-ins.
But Fahmy insisted authorities have “no desire to use force if there is any other avenue that has not been exhausted”.
“There is an open invitation for all political forces to participate. The door is open for everybody, including the Brotherhood, to participate in the process,” he told reporters.
“If the political landscape does not have space for everyone, it cannot be an inclusive democracy.”
Morsi has been formally remanded in custody on suspicion of offences committed when he broke out of prison during the 2011 revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
Held at an undisclosed location since the coup, Morsi refused to talk to the investigating judge in a meeting on Friday, said Mostafa Azab of the “Lawyers Against the Coup” movement.
The interior ministry has warned that protesters not quitting the sit-ins would be exposed “to legal action over the involvement in several criminal acts by some in the gatherings, including killing, torture, kidnap, carrying weapons… and incitement to violence.”
Meanwhile, the authorities prevented Yemeni rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman from entering Egypt “for security reasons,” airport officials said.
She has backed Morsi’s supporters, describing the Islamist leader’s ouster as undemocratic.