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Ashton's visit to Egypt stirs controversy

Every time UN Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Representative Catherine Ashton visits Egypt it fuels speculations about the announced and concealed purposes of her visit, so much so that whenever a political surprise takes place, the echoed slogan is "the password is Ashton".


Mrs Ashton's latest visit coincided with the anti-coup movement's first call to demonstrate in Tahrir Square since the military coup that ousted elected President Mohamed Morsi, reasoning that the security forces would not dare to shoot demonstrators and anger Mrs Ashton. Mrs Ashton's last visit coincided with similar protest calls by the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, which passed without loss of life. Only hours following the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Al-Ahram official newspaper quoted a German news agency claiming that Mrs Ashton had delayed her visit to Cairo for another 24 hours and would arrive on Wednesday. Later Al-Ahram published another item saying that Mrs Ashton had already arrived to Cairo International Airport when the demonstrations in Tahrir Square had been attacked and dispersed by thugs with bricks and stones.

The coup's media outlets claim that Ashton's visit aims to involve the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process through a deal that revokes the decision to dismantle the Brotherhood in exchange for their recognition of the military coup.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Studies, told Al-Jazeera Live Egypt yesterday that the European Union is determined to impose sanctions on Egypt, however an Egyptian delegation succeeded in persuading the EU to postpone them in exchange for training 150 officers to disperse peaceful sit-ins non-violently.

Ibrahim, who accompanied the delegation, explained that Ashton's visit aims to ensure two things: the first is Egypt's commitment to respecting human rights towards the Muslim Brotherhood and the legitimate President Morsi, while the second is the commitment to implement the roadmap on schedule.

The visit coincides with media claims that the Muslim Brotherhood intends to negotiate with the interim government. The latest was published by Al-Ahram and quoted Muslim Brotherhood officials as saying that "Dr Muhammad Ali Bishr, the Brotherhood delegate, and Dr Amr Darraj, the Freedom and Justice Party delegate, will inform Mrs Ashton during their meeting of their acceptance of the EU initiative to achieve national reconciliation."

The Brotherhood has repeatedly denied such claims and released a statement today confirming that the "Brotherhood, the national forces and the masses of Egyptians will not back down from demanding an end to the military coup and the return of kidnapped President Morsi to his post, as well as the restoration of the Shura Council and the democratically approved constitution."

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