A top US diplomat yesterday met a jailed senior leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, part of mediation efforts to end the standoff between Egypt’s military-backed government and protesters supporting ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, government officials said.
They said US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met in prison with Khairat el-Shater, the powerful deputy head of the Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails. Burns was accompanied by the foreign ministers of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well as an EU envoy.
El-Shater is charged with complicity in the killing of anti-Morsi protesters.
Burns and the three other diplomats are in Egypt as part of international efforts to end a standoff between Morsi’s supporters and the government installed by the military after it toppled the Islamist president in a July 3 coup.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The officials did not say why Burns and the other diplomats visited el-Shater, who was widely believed, along with the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Mohammed Badie, to be the source of real power during Morsi’s year in power.
Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, has been held at an undisclosed location since his ouster.
Burns’ visit to el-Shater was authorized in advance by a prosecutor since he, Badie and four others are awaiting trial on charges related to the killing of eight protesters outside the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters hours after millions of Egyptians took to the streets on June 30 to demand Morsi’s ouster. The trial is set for Aug 25. Badie is in hiding.
In a brief statement, the Brotherhood said Morsi remained the legitimately elected president who should be spoken to and not anyone else. However, it did not condemn the Burns visit.
The visit came after Egypt’s highest security body — the National Defense Council — announced that the timeframe for any negotiated resolution to the current standoff should be “defined and limited.” It also called on pro-Morsi protesters to abandon their sit-ins and join the political roadmap announced the day of the coup.
With the Islamist-backed constitution adopted last year suspended and the legislature dominated by Morsi’s supporters dissolved, the roadmap provides for a new or amended constitution to be put to a national referendum later this year and presidential and parliamentary elections early next year.
Burns had extended his visit to Cairo by two days so he could have further talks with Egyptian leaders on Sunday and yesterday. He met Egyptian Minister of Defense General Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, who led the July 3 coup, and interim Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi on Sunday.
The US Department of State said Burns discussed the importance of avoiding violence and fostering an inclusive process “that helps Egypt’s ongoing transition succeed” — another clear sign Washington has moved on from Morsi’s presidency.
Burns also met for a second time with an anti-coup delegation that included two Muslim Brotherhood figures. He requested the meetings and urged them to avoid violence, according to Nevine Malak, who attended the meetings with Burns as part of the anti-coup delegation.