Top EU diplomat calls for inclusive Egypt politics

CAIRO (AP) — 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.”

Morsi’s supporters have camped out in two areas of Cairo since shortly before Morsi was ousted, and hundreds marched Wednesday to the Cabinet building in central Cairo to denounce the new government, which was sworn in on Tuesday.

Mansour also has announced a road map for the transition to democracy, including a loose schedule for rewriting the country’s constitution, suspended after Morsi’s ouster, and electing a new president and parliament.

His political adviser Mustafa Hegazy said Wednesday the transition would be completed in around nine months. Addressing concerns about the Brotherhood’s exclusion from the political process, Hegazy said the military-backed administration would launch an initiative aimed at starting a transitional justice and reconciliation process next week.

The Arab world’s most populous country has had a rocky transition following the 18-day popular uprising that removed Mubarak from power in 2011. The euphoria at the end of Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule was dampened as the political divisions deepened, the economy plummeted and crime soared.

Since Morsi’s election, Egypt’s politics grew more polarized, split into two camps, with secular Egyptians, liberals, Christians and moderate Muslims accusing Islamist leader of giving the Brotherhood undue influence. The fault lines deepened after Morsi’s ouster, except that the Islamists are no longer in power and growing as entrenched as the opposition.

Morsi and his supporters maintain that his rule has been sabotaged by Mubarak loyalists eager to regain power, an opposition that had no genuine interest in reconciliation and a seemingly endless series of strikes, protests and street violence.

On Wednesday, demonstrators carried posters of Morsi and chanted slogans against the military in a march to the Cabinet building, near Tahrir Square, where Morsi’s opponents have been camped out since before his ouster.

Security forces barred them from reaching the Cabinet building, but protesters painted graffiti on the walls calling el-Sissi a killer and traitor. They also appealed to the military’s rank-and-file, saying the senior officers who carried out the coup were “sowing the seeds of division between the people and the army.”

More rallies were planned after sunset Wednesday, raising fears of new clashes.

Also Wednesday, militants fired at a conscript on duty outside a police station in North Sinai’s capital, el-Arish, killing him, security officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address reporters. They said the 23-year old conscript was killed by snipers.

Violence in Sinai has increased following Morsi’s ouster, as militants target police stations and security forces, some vowing to drive the military out of the peninsula.

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