McCain, Graham Hold Talks with Egyptian Army Chief

Tuesday, 06 Aug 2013 11:52 AM

 

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Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain met Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo Tuesday, part of an international effort to ease the political crisis brought on by the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi last month.

The members of the Senate Armed Services Committee took on the mission at the request of President Barack Obama, reflecting Washington's anxiety at events in Egypt, long a bulwark of its Middle East policy.

The state news agency MENA said only that the two sides exchanged views on political developments and discussed efforts to end "the state of political polarization."

Egypt's army chief of staff Lieutenant General Sedki Sobhi and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson also attended the meeting. The senators also met interim Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei.

Egypt has been dangerously divided since the overthrow of Morsi on July 3 following huge demonstrations against his rule.

Morsi became Egypt's first freely-elected president in June 2012, 16 months after the overthrow of U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled for nearly 30 years. The ousted head of state is being detained at an undisclosed location.

Thousands of his supporters remain camped out at two sites in Cairo which the government has pledged to break up.

Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since Morsi's overthrow, including 80 shot dead by security forces in a single incident July 27.

A diplomatic push led by envoys from the United States, European Union, United Arab Emirates and Qatar has so far helped to hold off further bloodshed between Morsi's backers and security forces but has not achieved a breakthrough.

"Things should move soon, otherwise we shall miss this opportunity. This is all still incredibly fragile." said a source involved in the diplomatic initiative.

U.S DILEMMA

Before leaving the United States, Graham said the Egyptian military must back out of politics quickly or risk a cut-off of the $1.5 billion it receives in military each year from Washington.

The crisis has put U.S. policy in a quandary. Mubarak was a close ally who kept Islamist militants under heel and maintained peace with Israel. Washington was slow to support the popular uprising that ousted him.

It cautiously welcomed the election of Morsi, an Islamist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fears that Morsi was trying to establish an Islamist autocracy, coupled with a failure to ease economic hardships afflicting most of Egypt's 84 million people, led to huge street demonstrations, triggering the army move.

Washington declined to characterize the army move as a coup - a definition that would trigger an aid cut-off - and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the army had acted to restore democracy at the urging of millions of Egyptians.

Nonetheless, many supporters of the army-installed interim government believe the United States still favors Morsi.

At Tahrir Square, the center of public protest, banners accuse Obama of supporting terrorism and tell Patterson to go home. Her appointment to a new post was announced last week.

On Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and European Union envoy Bernardino Leon met jailed Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater in the prison where he is being held.

They tried to persuade him to accept the new reality, with no realistic prospect of Morsi being reinstated, and accept a political compromise. A Brotherhood spokesman said Shater had insisted they should be talking to Morsi and the only solution was the "reversal of the coup." A source briefed by the negotiators said the meeting had been useful and constructive.

The military has laid out a plan that could see a new head of state elected in roughly nine months. The Brotherhood says it wants nothing to do with it.

Government political advisor Mostafa Hegazy said the authorities would have to deal with the protesters at the Brotherhood camps at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Square to create the right conditions for the transition plan.

"The crowds exist not to find a solution or to enter political life but to disrupt everyday life and endanger the future of the nation," he told MENA. "They need to renounce violence and stop carrying weapons."

The security forces have promised the protesters safe exit if they quit the camps but have warned their patience is limited.

It is thought unlikely that they would take action before Sunday, the end of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the close of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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