Egypt: EU chief first to meet ousted Morsi

Catherine Ashton's visit to Egypt seen as positive move. Picture: Reuters
Catherine Ashton's visit to Egypt seen as positive move. Picture: Reuters
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EUROPE’S foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has met Egypt’s deposed president Mohamed Morsi, the first time an outsider has been given access to him since he was detained by the army a month ago.

European Union chief Lady Ashton revealed little about what she described as a “friendly, open and very frank” two-hour conversation with Mr Morsi yesterday, held at an undisclosed location. She said Mr Morsi had access to television and was being kept informed of events.

Yesterday his supporters stepped up their protests in Cairo calling for his release.

Lady Ashton, who has emerged as one of the few figures accepted by Egypt’s new rulers and Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood as a potential mediator in an increasingly bloody conflict, said EU efforts to broker a solution would continue.

Nearly 300 people have been killed in violence since Mr Morsi was ousted on 3 July. That number includes more than 70 Morsi supporters gunned down at dawn on Saturday on the fringes of a protest camp in eastern Cairo.

“Any violence must stop. The people need to come together to find the road to the future together. Only an inclusive process will work,” said Lady Ashton, speaking alongside interim vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei.

Her visit coincided with a fresh surge in protests from Mr Morsi’s mainly Muslim Brotherhood supporters, with thousands flooding the streets in parts of Cairo yesterday and bringing traffic to a standstill.

Protesters brandished laminated posters of Mr Morsi and shouted “Freedom” and “Democracy” in English.

“The ballot box is what we agreed on but they threw that away when it gave a result they didn’t like,” said Mohsen Ahmed, 49, a preacher from Mansoura, over the blare of car-horns. “Our votes have to be respected both by Egyptians and by the international community. Isn’t that democracy?”

Meanwhile, taxi drivers seethed in the traffic jams and passers-by looked on with little sympathy. “The majority wants Morsi gone,” said Ghada Boghdady, 48, an electrician and supporter of General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the military chief who announced Mr Morsi’s removal. “Sisi needs the people. If the people really wanted Morsi back, then he’d be back in power.”

Mr Morsi’s supporters still seem to believe his return is a possibility. For more than a month now, tens of thousands have been encamped round Rabaa al-Adawiya, a mosque in the eastern suburb of Nasr City. Protesters have set up tents, blocked entrances with paving stones and sandbags, and established seven field kitchens which serve up free packaged meals. A field clinic promises complementary medical care for local residents.

Entire families are staying put too, seemingly undaunted by the recent violence “We have two options – victory or death,” sighed Warda Mohamed, a 34-year old mother of two. “But God will take care of us.”

Mr Morsi supporters have stepped up efforts to appeal to foreign media, on Monday night hosting western journalists for the Ramadan fast-breaking meal with former ministers from the Brotherhood’s political wing. As plates of sugary pastries circulated the tent, ex-pat Egyptians claiming no link to the movement took turns at a mic to decry what they called a coup against democracy.

Not everyone at Rabaa is on message. Earlier that day in the shade beside the mosque, ­Mohamed El-Masri, 53, a self-proclaimed hardliner, said “Demo­cracy is a western idea. Sisi wants a country like those in Europe, not like Islamic Egypt.”