Egypt’s army-installed government has declared international diplomatic efforts to resolve the country’s political crisis have failed and signalled it is gearing up to take action against supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi.
Envoys from the United States, European Union, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had been trying to defuse the crisis and prevent further bloodshed.
President Adli Mansour’s office yesterday said the period of international efforts, which began more than ten days ago, “ended today”.
Soon after, interim prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi said the government’s decision to dismantle Morsi supporters’ two protest camps in Cairo was final and its patience had nearly expired.
The protesters had “broken all the limits of peacefulness”, Mr Beblawi said, accusing them of inciting violence, blocking roads and detaining citizens.
Any use of weapons against policemen or citizens would “be confronted with utmost force and decisiveness,” he said.
The breakdown in mediation and the threat of action against the protesters brought the political crisis in the Arab world’s biggest nation to a dangerous new phrase.
“I didn’t know it was this bad. These folks are just days or weeks away from all-out bloodshed,” US senator Lindsey Graham told the CBS network after he met officials from both sides in Cairo on Tuesday.
The army removed Islamist Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first freely-elected leader, on 3 July after huge street demonstrations against his rule and installed an interim civilian government.
Mr Morsi and leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood have been rounded up and detained. But thousands of their supporters have joined protests to demand Morsi’s reinstatement.
Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since the overthrow, including 80 Morsi supporters shot dead by security forces in an incident on 27 July. On Wednesday afternoon, people streamed into the camp outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in north-east Cairo, where demonstrators have built brick and sandbag barricades and armed themselves with sticks and rocks. Their numbers included women and children.
“We will not leave until we get Morsi back,” said Salma Imam, 19, student at Al-Azhar University. “It’s not a government. The real government was chosen by the Egyptian people one year ago. This is not a legal government.”
Mr Beblawi said in his address people should leave the camps now. Those whose hands were not “sullied with blood” would not face legal action, he said.
The presidency said it held the Muslim Brotherhood responsible for the failure of the diplomatic push, and also for any events that might result from this “related to breaches of the law and endangering civil peace”.
The international envoys have shuttled between the two sides for more than a week seeking to find a compromise. The government met the envoys and allowed them to see jailed Muslim Brotherhood leaders, a presidency statement said.
The aim was to urge the Brotherhood to “respect the will of the people” who had protested to demand an end to Mr Morsi’s rule. “These efforts did not achieve the hoped-for success, despite the complete support the Egyptian government offered,” it said.
Mr Morsi’s downfall was driven by fears he was trying to establish an Islamist autocracy, coupled with a failure to ease economic hardship affecting most of Egypt’s 84 million people.
The army says it was acting at the behest of the people and has lain out its own transition plan for new election, a move rejected by the Brotherhood.
Mr Beblawi met army chief and defence minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim on Wednesday, state-run al-Ahram newspaper reported.
The discussions included the protests.