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US mulls options in run-up to Egypt's 30 June anti-govt rallies

With 30 June anti-govt demos around corner, three key players in Egypt's fraught political equation – the army, police and Washington – all appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach, say informed sources

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 20 Jun 2013
Morsi
(Photo: AP)
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Egypt's defence and interior ministers have turned down a proposal by President Mohamed Morsi to prepare security forces for a possible declaration of a state of emergency should planned 30 June anti-government demonstrations turn violent, government sources told Ahram Online on Thursday.

The president's proposal, according to the sources, was made to both ministers, along with the prime minister, earlier this week. It was reportedly supported by the latter as "a possibly unavoidable eventuality."

The minister of defence, the sources said, reaffirmed the military's desire to remain outside the current political debate between the president and his supporters on the one hand and the opposition on the other.

He also reportedly reiterated the armed forces' role as laid down by the constitution, along with the army's apprehension about being dragged into a confused political situation that could subject the armed forces to the kind of "unkind" criticism seen during Egypt's post-revolution period of military rule.

The same sources said that the interior minister had told the president that it would be "very difficult" to convince the police apparatus – both leadership and rank and file – to take sides in the current political battle. This, they said, was because the police had yet to recover from the intense public criticism they were subject to in the wake of the 2011 uprising, after supporting the embattled Mubarak regime in the face of nationwide protests that eventually culminated in Mubarak's ouster.

According to one high-ranking police officer, it would be "quite an achievement" if the interior minister managed to convince police officers – especially the younger ones – not to take part in the planned anti-Morsi demonstrations on 30 June.

US mulls options

Washington, meanwhile, appears to be considering its options. In recent days, US ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has been holding intensive meetings with the leadership of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), along with political commentators and civil society figures.

During her meetings, Patterson, according to Egyptian and Western sources, has been stressing three points: Washington does not wish to see Egypt go through either a military coup or a forced interruption of the democratically-elected president's term; that it is not too late for the elected president and the opposition to work out a compromise deal; that there is considerable room for improvement in Morsi's management of the nation's affairs, especially the economy; and that there is also a need for the opposition to forge a united front and vision for Egypt's future.

In the reading of some sources who have been closely following the US-Egypt talks in Cairo, Patterson is communicating Washington's overall assessment – but not fully.

"In the early days of her posting to Cairo [about two years ago], Patterson had direct access to and a strong influence on [US President Barack] Obama," said one source. "This changed for two reasons: the arrival of newly-appointed Secretary of State John Kerry and the unappealing performance of the Muslim Brotherhood."

He added that both Patterson and Obama wanted to see Morsi survive the 30 June challenge, but went on to point out "discrepancies" between how tolerant the two US officials would be regarding Morsi's and the Muslim Brotherhood's possible mismanagement of the 30 June demonstrations – "especially if the rallies turn violent, which I expect they will."

This discrepancy, said the source, is not necessarily about a difference in views between Patterson and Kerry/Obama (which other sources, including Western diplomats, have confirmed), but is "also about the pressure that the US State Department is feeling from the US Congress." The latter, he added, is becoming "increasingly annoyed with Morsi," especially over his "unfavourable" position regarding civil society in Egypt.

Washington 'in a fix'

In the words of another source, "Morsi was not exactly the president Washington would have liked to see in the Presidential Palace. But now that he's there, the US must calculate the potential risks involved in a protracted inter-Egyptian tug-of-war if he's forced to step down in the absence of a mutually-acceptable political deal." Washington, she added, "is in a fix."

In this week’s meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood, Patterson was reportedly offered assurances of a solid political position that could defy calls for early presidential elections. This is the exact opposite of what she has been hearing from the NSF and other opposition factions, who have said that 30 June would be "only the beginning" of a continuous push to force Morsi to step down.

As it currently stands, three key players in the equation – the army, police and Washington – all appear to be waiting-and-seeing regarding the upcoming 30 June demonstrations. 

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