President Mohamed Morsi remains confident that he has the indispensible support of Washington and the Egyptian armed forces – largely if not fully.
A round of talks between Cairo and Washington – some sources suggest it included direct talks between an apprehensive US President Barack Obama and a reassuring President Morsi – concluded that despite the outrage of protestors since the January 25 Revolution anniversary, Morsi’s presidency is weakened but not broken.
“He is still largely in control. Ultimately we think the anger [in Egypt] will calm down – but he will have to give something,” said a Cairo-based Western diplomat.
This view is shared by many foreign diplomats in Egypt: the army is not moving against Morsi – some hasten to add ‘at least not yet’ – and public opinion has not turned enough to see another president fall in less than two years.
Moreover, the call made by a leading member of the National Salvation Front for the West, especially Washington, to put pressure on Morsi, is still being pondered and no serious pressure seems to be building.
According to one informed source in Washington, an expected US State Department statement mildly placing more blame for the current violence on Morsi than on the rest of the political leadership was suspended in favour of a White House statement calling on all leaders to end the violence and pursue dialogue.
The spirit of the statement, the same source says, was largely influenced by the US ambassador to Egypt, who seems to be arguing the case for Morsi even as Washington becomes more sceptical. “It is clear these demonstrations will not bring Morsi down,” the source said.
Overall, Arab diplomats in Washington say the White House is comfortable with the role Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are playing on key Middle East issues: Gaza, Hamas, Iran and Syria. “And above this there is a sense of ease with regards to the positive statement Morsi made on the Prophet Mohamed's birthday about equal rights for Coptic Christians and Muslims alike,” said one Washington-based Arab diplomat.
Sources who followed recent talks between Washington, Morsi and the Egyptian army say a few concessions might be offered to contain public outrage.
Meanwhile, sources in the Egyptian opposition say their views on how to exit the current crisis have been solicited by the US embassy in Cairo. Some say these contacts amount to mediation rather than consultation – something a US embassy source declined to confirm, saying it is normal for embassies to talk with political leaders.
This said, an Egyptian military source confirms the US is confident the Egyptian army will stay out of politics. There are certain matters the armed forces “talk frankly about with the presidency but this does not mean the army is at all willing to re-engage in the political process – we are staying out of it,” he said.
A similar assessment is offered by several foreign diplomats in Cairo who essentially agree that Morsi is facing difficulties and that he is also facing pressure from the armed forces on some matters, but things have not reached the point at which the army would ask Morsi to step down.
According to the military source, who spoke to Ahram Online on condition of anonymity, the armed forces are unlikely to repeat the offer it made for a national dialogue last November during the political crisis over the president's constitutional declaration. “Unless we are asked by the presidency we are not intending to offer our help again. The president is dealing with this matter himself.”
A number of public figures and opposition politicians refused the president's invitation to join a national dialogue on the current crisis, presidential sources say.
The same sources suggest further sessions might convene in the next few days – perhaps with broader attendance. None of the sources, however, offer any coherent agenda for the possible outcome of this dialogue.
Some presidential sources have suggested President Morsi might delay a trip to Berlin and Paris scheduled to start on 29 January. Morsi has already cancelled his visit to the African Summit in Addis Ababa on Sunday.