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Ashton's Egypt visit will bring reconciliation 'progress': Brotherhood sources

A visit by the EU's Catherine Ashton could push forward reconciliation efforts between the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood, sources say

Ahram Online, Tuesday 1 Oct 2013
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (Photo: AP)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is expected to meet with Muslim Brotherhood figures during a three-day visit to Cairo, to push for reconciliation with the transitional government.

Muslim Brotherhood sources expect Ashton’s visit to Cairo, which starts on Tuesday, to bring "great progress" to reconciliation attempts. They hint that the Islamist group representatives would accept an initiative presented by Ashton during her last visit in late July if it is put forward again.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its political allies rejected the ouster of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July following mass protests, and have held regular demonstrations against the new government.

Sources told Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website that Muslim Brotherhood representatives Mohamed Bishr and Amr Darrag will meet with Ashton during her visit.

According to Al-Ahram, the two senior figures will demand an end to the arrest campaign launched by Egypt's interim government against Brotherhood leaders and members and the release of those arrested without charges, in exchange for a halt to protests.

Darrag told the Brotherhood's official website that the representatives have accepted Ashton's invitation for talks on Wednesday, but that they do not yet know what her agenda for the meeting is.

Ashton has visited the country twice since Morsi was ousted from the presidency in July. She was one of a number of international envoys who tried unsuccessfully to reduce tensions between the Islamist group and the transitional government over the summer.

Under Ashton's previous initiative, the Muslim Brotherhood would have recognised the interim roadmap announced by army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi after Morsi's ouster. The Brotherhood has consistently rejected the new political settlement and demanded Morsi’s reinstatement.

On Sunday, leading Muslim Brotherhood figure Essam El-Erian, himself wanted on charges of inciting violence, called for dialogue based on the roadmap suggested by Morsi prior to his ouster, which entailed drafting constitutional amendments and holding parliament elections before the end of the year. El-Erian's statement implied that Morsi's reinstatement is still a condition to successful negotiations.

The previous Ashton initiative involves the release of Brotherhood members held without charges, a fair trial for those who were charged, and unfreezing the group's assets, in exchange for the Brotherhood rejoining political life and condemning ongoing militant activity in the restive Sinai Peninsula, which has been linked to the Islamist group as a retaliatory measure against Morsi's ouster.

Apart from her meeting with Brotherhood representatives, diplomatic sources told MENA agency earlier this week that Ashton’s visit will include talks with key members of the Egyptian government, including interim President Adly Mansour, Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, army chief and Defence Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, and Foreign Affairs Minister Nabil Fahmy, as well as Amr Moussa, head of the committee charged with amending the 2012 constitution.

Ashton will also meet with Salafist Nour Party, according to Reuters' Aswat Masriya website.

The EU strongly condemned the violent crackdown on pro-Morsi protest camps by security forces in Cairo on 14 August which led to hundreds of deaths. Ashton voiced fears at the growing levels of violence and polarisation in the country.

However, a week after her strongly worded statements, Ashton expressed the EU's readiness to offer "support, not interference" to the country and said that she is still willing to revisit Egypt as a mediator "if they wish me to come back."

Following the violence, the EU halted weapons exports to Egypt by member states. 

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