A group of foreign officials who arrived to Cairo throughout the week have been trying to consolidate the state of "no violence" that has been reached via the diplomatic intervention of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton late last week. The visitors, Westerns and Arabs, are also working on reaching a "truce" between present authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood that refuses to end two major sit-ins ongoing in Cairo and Giza.
Some of foreign officials, including US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, are considering extending their stay in the hope of reaching a more conclusive agreement between the Muslim Brotherhood and authorities.
Burns arrived to Cairo two days ago, ahead of an expected visit 4 August by two Republican Congressmen. He has been holding rounds of talks with Mohamed ElBaradei, interim vice president for international relations, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, leaders of liberal political forces, and other foreign "mediators" in town.
The visit of Burns came essentially to give a push to a reluctant Muslim Brotherhood to “agree to move forward and to cut their losses,” as they were told by Ashton who shared the outcome of her diplomatic sojourn in Cairo with Washington.
Burns met with Muslim Brotherhood awareness that ousted president Mohamed Morsi is unlikely to find his way back to the presidential palace, but that the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has to find a face saving exit to placate its members that have joined the two major sit-ins for over a month.
“Apparently they realise that the release of Morsi and some of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership — something they have already been demanding — would not be good enough to convince the hundreds of thousands who joined the sit-in to leave. They decided to shoot higher and they are now saying, 'Okay; if there is no Morsi then there should be no El-Sisi either, said a government official involved in the negotiations.
Minister of defence, general — and acting higher — commander of the army, deputy prime minister and widely popular, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is impossible to remove from the current political equation, Western and Arab diplomatic sources in Cairo say firmly.
“What the Muslim Brotherhood is offering, about having a new minister of defence so they can go to their sit-ins and say we got rid of the man who ousted Morsi, is simply a non-starter. It is not something that could have been taken seriously by Burns or any of the other interlocutors in town,” said a well-informed Egyptian official. He added: “The disturbing part about this demand is that it shows the lack of serious will on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership to cut a political deal by which they could be integrated fairly in the political process. This demand shows they want to have a veto on running the state, and it is a veto they will never have. Bill Burns knows it, and so does every other foreign official or diplomat in town.”
Taken on tours of the sit-ins of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo and Giza, Ashton’s top aide on democracy in the southern Mediterranean, Bernardino Leon, is also being lobbied by the argument that the masses in the sit-ins will not accept to go home, no matter what security guarantees they are given by the government, which they have little faith in anyway, without having either of two demands met: Morsi re-instated as president, or El-Sisi removed.
Beyond the high level of expectations among participants in the sit-ins, and fiery statements of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership there, closed door talks reveal a growing realism on the part of Muslim Brotherhood that Morsi is not going to resume his position.
A safe exit for Morsi and his family, as for some other Muslim Brotherhood leadership figures and their families, their assets intact, is being discussed. However, the level of expectation on the side of Egyptian officials is not high when it comes to the "Morsi safe exit" option. Some agree with no more than a nod that Morsi could be tried and then pardoned, even if found guilty of breaking the law on any of the charges he is facing — or is likely to be facing — in the coming weeks. Others openly say that this is a highly unlikely scenario, because Morsi should not be granted a better set up than that given to Hosni Mubarak, ousted two years earlier and who was forced to go through a trial that ended with a life imprisonment sentence that is currently being appealed while Mubarak is kept in a jail hospital.
In the eyes of the army, Mubarak is a military man who fought during the 1973 October War and who served the nation during his time as an army officer — even if his subsequent 30 years as president were marred with favourtism, nepotism and corruption. Morsi, on the other hand, is a man the military says "compromised national security interests," allegedly by sharing classified information with the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and some foreign leaders, either wittingly or unwittingly, and who was more than tolerant with the presence and activities of Islamist militants in Sinai.
With no chance to remove El-Sisi, and very small chances to secure a full safe exit for Morsi, international mediators in Cairo are working on other details that might require Interim President Adly Mansour to issue an extra constitutional decree if an agreement is reached to reactivate the 2012 constitution (adopted under Morsi on less than one fifth of eligible voters, and predominantly drafted by Isalmists) and to reinstate the predominantly Islamist Shura Council (elected in 2011 with even an much smaller turnout of voters).
Official sources suggest that the reactivation of the constitution without amendments for some of the more controversial articles, currently being considered by a special board, is unlikely. What is likely is reaching some compromise with Islamists on the volume of amendments.
According to one of these officials, the maximum the Muslim Brotherhood can hope for is a say — but not a final say — on amendments of the constitution and the draft electoral law by which the parliamentary elections could be run. Moreover, according to the same source, the Msulim Brotherhood can expect some of its leadership released if the charges they are facing are not too serious, and that they can leave Egypt, possibly to Qatar which also sent an envoy to Cairo who has met with both sides of the present political divide.
“But if the Muslim Brotherhood think they can use their sit-in or foreign pressure to fully change the roadmap that was adopted after Morsi was removed they are mistaken. The state will not accept to be blackmailed, even if it is willing to reach a deal,” the official source said.
Meanwhile, political sources told Ahram Online that they heard a direct commitment from Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, who has half of the constitutional presidential prerogative upon delegation by the interim president, not to force an end to the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins before Eid — the feast following the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, that should end Wednesday.
El-Beblawi, according to Ahram Online sources, did not exclude chances of the state eventually resorting to force to end the sit-ins, but said that this would be a process executed within the framework of the law.
The very fact that the sit-ins could see out Ramadan, and maybe the three days of the Eid feast, withoud attempts at a dispersal that could produce bloodshed is seen as a political victory for Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who favours a political not a security resolution to the current standoff, over an interior minister who appears inclined to show a firmer hand towards the sit-ins. The declining chances of a forced breakup of the sit-in, which likely would have brought about a serious death toll, is also considered a reassuring development for Western officials who made it clear to Egyptian authorities that a new scene of bloodshed would be subject to unequivocal criticism from their capitals.
Egyptian authorities faced considerable blame on the killing of close to 130 supporters of Morsi in two separate incidents last month.
“We are over this point now; we have world recognition that the removal of Morsi was the fulfillment of the public will, and not a coup, and that we have a democratic path to pursue,” said a presidential source.