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No clear solution for Egypt’s political deadlock

As the government ultimatum to pro-Morsi supporters to end their sit-ins expires, Egypt's political fate remains in the balance

Salma Shukrallah, Saturday 10 Aug 2013
Rabaa sit-in
Supporters of Mohamed Morsi stage sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo (Photo:Reuters)
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As the Muslim Brotherhood continues to reject the army-backed roadmap for political transition and with negotiations between the Islamists and the government reaching a deadlock, the coming phase of Egypt’s political development remains foggy.

Expressing that they will not budge, supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi mobilised on Friday nationwide, repeating a scene the country has grown all too familiar with.

The two main Brotherhood sit-ins continue to block the Rabaa Al-Adawiya crosspoint in Nasr City and Al-Nahda Square in Giza.

Marches tour the city every other day, blocking off several main roads in the greater Cairo area.

Nevertheless, the interim presidency and government insist nothing will block the new political roadmap.

On Thursday, the eve of Eid El-Fitr, the holiday following Ramadan, the presidency announced the criteria for choosing the 50-member committee that will examine amending the 2012 constitution.  

The 2012 constitution, suspended as part of the Egyptian Armed Forces' roadmap for Egypt’s future, was a major bone of contention among anti-Morsi protesters against Morsi who hit the streets in unprecedented numbers 30 June.

In the speech Interim President Adly Mansour gave on the eve of Eid he insisted: “Some think they are able to stop history from moving ... or to challenge your will for a deserved promising future. This will never happen.”

Ultimatum for Brotherhood sit-in

Interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi announced at the end of Ramadan that the Brotherhood sit-ins would no longer be tolerated and would be dispersed.   

El-Beblawi said the only reason the sit-ins had not been dispersed earlier was out of respect for the holy month of Ramadan.

Expectations are high that the sit-ins will be dispersed after Eid, which ended Saturday.

Security forces have already intensified their presence around the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in, according to eyewitnesses.

The sit-in's media centre told Ahram Online that increased security forces are seen in all surounding streets, including Yousef Abbas Street, El-Tayaran Street, Abbas Al-Aqad Street and Salah Salem Road.

Central Security Forces (CSF) trucks are also stationed close by. Army and police helicopters frequently hover over the area. 

Ahram Online reporters also confirmed that police checkpoints are stationed around the sit-in, searching many passing cars.  

Negotiations fail

El-Beblawi's statements on ending the sit-in after Ramadan came following announcements that negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood have failed.

Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei — who frequently reiterated his insistence on ending the current political impasse through a political solution — had repeatedly stated that if the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to cooperate and insists on escalation, violence may be an inevitable outcome.

The last attempt made by police at the end of July to disperse a pro-Morsi crowd triggered clashes that left around 100 killed.

Still, the National Alliance in Support of Legitimacy, the Islamist umbrella group that organises the sit-ins, maintains the only acceptable political solution would be to reinstate Morsi and the 2012 constitution.

On Saturday, Ahmed Maher, the founder of April 6 Youth Movement founder, a group that supported Morsi for president in 2012 before withdrawing confidence in him months later, blamed the Brotherhood for the current political stalemate and called on the group to end their sit-ins.

"Everyone who tried to find solutions admitted that it's the Muslim Brotherhood who refuse all compromises and seek escalation, insisting on the one impossible condition, which is reinstating Morsi as if the [30 June] revolution never happened," Maher stated.

Maher added that the Brotherhood's “stubbornness” and “denial of reality” would result in further public hatred against the group — an outcome that would not be in the Brotherhood's favour.

Possible scenarios  

With uncertainty tainting the political scene, scenarios for expected developments vary.

While the sit-in is expected to be dispersed any time, some say a deal is still in the pipeline.

If a deal is reached, its repercussions will differ according to how satisfactory it is for the differing political players. If no agreement proves possible and the sit-ins are dispersed, the situation is likely to escalate further.

The Muslim Brotherhood publicly insists that its starting point is Morsi's return to power. Privately, however, some pro-Morsi protesters say that the sit-ins are their last bargaining chip to press for the release of detained Brotherhood leaders and for guarantees that the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated Islamist currents will be included in politics in the future.

A Brotherhood source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al-Ahram’s Arabic website Friday that negotiations have not reached anywhere, but have not necessarily failed either, adding that the main problem is the insistence of the armed forces on not releasing all detained Brotherhood leaders.

The source explained that the ruling regime agreed to release all jailed Brotherhood members except strongman Khairat El-Shater and ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

Although the government offered to unfreeze the assets of detained Brotherhood leaders and to continue to recognise the group, El-Shater refused the offer unless all those detained are freed, the source added.

However, another source close to the negotiations told Al-Ahram Arabic news website that a deal has already been reached. The Brotherhood, according to the agreement, would drop its demand for the reinstatement of Morsi as president - and stop calling for the return to the 2012 constitution and Shura Council. In return, the current regime would gradually release detained Brotherhood leaders, unfreeze the group’s assets, allow the Muslim Brotherhood to gain legal status under a soon-to-be-issued NGO law, and continue to recognise the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. The two sides concurred, according to the same source, that it would be mutually beneficial for them if the Brotherhood did not immediately join the cabinet.

Above all, the two sides were in full agreement on the necessity of putting an end to the current bloody standoff, according to the source. In fact, the Brotherhood vowed during negotiations to instruct its members at the sit-ins not to resist the authorities if police uses water cannons and teargas to disperse the crowds.

However, Emad Gad, a political analyst at Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies and member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party,  was skeptical that the government and the Brotherhood could actually reach a deal because "the Brotherhood refuses all political solutions."

According to Gad, the Brotherhood's aim is to prove that the ouster of Morsi was a "coup," and to push for guarantees that the group's leaders would be not be held legally accountable [for any crimes] and that their assets would be unfrozen.

"Several [Brotherhood] leaders face serious charges ... and if the government does not apply the law, this would mean that the state has no authority," said Gad.

A deal is not possible at the moment, and the state has no choice but to forcibly disperse the Brotherhood's sit-ins, Gad concluded.

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