Creating new perspectives since 2009

Diplomatic stalemate in Cairo

January 23, 2014 at 7:16 am

Ever since Mohammed Morsi was deposed on 3 July, Egypt has been in a state of crisis. An interim government has taken over, but thousands of protesters remain on the streets, calling for Morsi to be reinstated.

Meanwhile, Morsi is imprisoned at an undisclosed location, along with some of his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues. More than 100 Morsi supporters have already been killed. There is mounting controversy over plans to break up two sit-ins of Brotherhood supporters at Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque and at Nadha Square.

As the weeks stretch on, regional and international diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis have been frantic. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar have been leading the diplomatic push, while European Union and American negotiators are also on the ground. Today, US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have joined top level diplomats for talks with both the army top command – including leader General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – and Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Before travelling to Cairo, Graham warned that if the Egyptian military did not withdraw from politics soon, the US would consider cutting the $1.3bn (£860m) military aid it contributes to Egypt each year.

The US state department confirmed that a delegation had visited the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy leader, Khairat al-Shater, in jail, with the aim of “prevent[ing] further violence, calm[ing] tensions and facilitat[ing] an inclusive dialogue to help the transition to a democratically elected civilian government”. The talks were unsuccessful: Shater cut the discussion short, telling diplomats that they must speak to Morsi if they wanted to solve the crisis. According to reports, the US was trying to persuade Brotherhood leaders to accept that Morsi will not return as president. They refused to do so.

Questions are being raised about how effectively the US and other western powers can mediate the crisis given that they tacitly supported the ousting of Morsi. Both the US and EU countries chose their words very carefully during and after Morsi’s fall: they criticised the use of non-democratic means to depose a democratically elected president, but refused to describe events as a coup. Criticism for international powers – particularly, though not exclusively, western – is coming from all angles. Supporters of the military have criticised the US and Europe for siding with Morsi and his protesters in the aftermath of his deposition. Meanwhile, pro-Morsi demonstrators have criticised the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia and the UAE for failing to properly condemn the removal of a democratically elected president. Shater’s response to US mediators demonstrates that the Brotherhood is not willing to work with them: against this backdrop, senators and diplomats alike can have limited influence.

The co-operation between Qatar and the UAE demonstrates how serious the situation in Egypt is for the region. The two countries previously differed on their policy towards the country. Qatar embraced the Islamist government that was elected after the Arab Spring, giving billions of dollars of aid to Morsi’s government. Meanwhile, the UAE was wary of the rise of political Islam in Egypt. The joint effort from these two regional powers – who between them, have links on both sides of the crisis – may have more hope of success than attempts from international players who are viewed with suspicion.

In recent days, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has visited Cairo, as have Arab diplomats, an African delegation, and the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. None of the delegations have had any success. The two sides have also held direct talks, with Sisi meeting Islamist leaders on Sunday. Yet the gulf in rhetoric remains vast – the army-led transitional government maintains that not a single change will be made to their roadmap to elections in 2014, while Brotherhood supporters say they will accept nothing less than Morsi’s reinstatement.

Some analysts have described a rising tide of xenophobia, with both sides calling for foreign powers to stop interfering in Egypt. Of course, it is unlikely they will stop trying to seek a resolution any time soon, but as things stand, they certainly do not seem to be having much impact.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.