After talks with EU envoy Catherine Ashton, Egyptian officials have said they are not committed to an inclusive approach to negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood until protests are halted, according to European diplomats.
Ashton arrived in Cairo on Tuesday for a three-day visit where she met with top state officials and with leading political figures, including two representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, Amr Darrag and Mohamed Bishr.
Ashton had previously visited Cairo as one of a number of international envoys seeking to end the political polarisation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the transitional authorities after the ouster of the Brotherhood’s Morsi from the presidency in early July.
“She was in a listening mode rather than an offering mode,” said one European diplomat.
Ashton’s visit to Cairo came two weeks after talks conducted by her colleague Bernardino Leon. Leon had reported a nascent willingness on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood to find a way forward that would end the security crackdown that the group has been facing since mid-August.
“What Leon told Ashton is that the Muslim Brotherhood say they want to know what it would take, short of having them on board with the government that was put together after the ouster of Morsi, for the roundups to end,” said one anonymous source.
“Ashton came to see what the officials want to offer for the inclusion of Islamists, because this is the only way forward for sustainable stability,” said another European diplomat.
During her talks in Cairo, Ashton aimed to show the EU’s acceptance of the change of government
“She basically said that we accept the new facts and that we have never denied that President Morsi made big mistakes and became out of touch; but she also said that inclusiveness is still encouraged by the EU as a key partner who is keen for the stability of Egypt,” according to one of the Ashton team.
She added that what Ashton heard both from interim President Adly Mansour and from army chief General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was that the Muslim Brotherhood have to stop “the attempts to resist the new reality and to stop the marches and protests for engagement to be possible.”
According to Egyptian and European diplomatic sources there was no clear outline of the way forward for political inclusiveness but some suggestions by Ashton included a call for a less biased media and a more constrained security attitude.
“She said that while she is not at all contesting the right of the state to secure the safety of its citizens there is no need for aggressive security measures or for unjustified roundups as we have been hearing, not just from the Islamist quarters but also from independent human rights groups and political quarters,” the same Ashton team member said.
European diplomats said that what Ashton offered in her talks in Cairo was also shared with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy in New York in late September on the fringes of the UN General Assembly meeting.
“What we are saying is that we know that there was clear public resentment against Morsi and that the Egyptian people decided he had to go but this does not justify extended and expanded extraordinary measures, as we have seen. Nor does it justify the security and legal actions that have been taken against the Muslim Brotherhood,” said a leading European ambassador in Cairo.
According to this ambassador and other Cairo-based western sources it would take a serious effort on the part of the interim authorities to include the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the Islamists in the democratic process – both in relation to the drafting of a new constitution and the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections – before Cairo could start receiving western foreign ministers.
Ashton, while in Cairo, received no assurances from any of the Islamists she had met with that they would take part to the process fully.
Government officials and independent political sources say that they think that the Muslim Brotherhood will call for a boycott of the referendum on the constitution which will take place probably in November or December. A source at the Muslim Brotherhood confirmed that this would probably be the case.
The constitution is currently being amended by a committee selected by the transitional authorities. It includes no Brotherhood members.