The European Union’s top diplomat has had two hours of talks with Egypt’s ousted president, who has been held incommunicado since his overthrow in a July 3 military coup, the EU said today.
Catherine Ashton is the first person outside Egypt’s military or security services who is reported to have met Mohammed Morsi since he was toppled. News of the meeting was posted in the Twitter account of the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy Service led by Ashton.
It did not say when or where the meeting took place.
Since the coup, which followed days of mass protests by millions of Egyptians calling for the ousting of Mr Morsi, the former president has been detained by the military at an undisclosed location. A group of Egyptian rights activists were taken by the military to Mr Morsi’s place of detention this week but he refused to see them.
Last Friday, prosecutors said Mr Morsi was facing accusations of conspiring with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Ashton is in Egypt on her second visit this month to search for a way out of the country’s increasingly bloody and complex crisis, looking for compromises in talks with the military-backed government and allies of the ousted president.
Ahead of her visit, she deplored the violence over the weekend which killed 83 protesters and appealed for a political process that includes all groups, including Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
But there were no signs that either side of the conflict was willing to heed her calls. The Brotherhood rejected calls to work with the new leaders and called for new demonstrations today. The government made no conciliatory gestures.
Ashton’s visit and telephone calls by US Secretary of State John Kerry to her and to Egyptian leaders underscored the sense of urgency in the international community, whose leaders are pushing for an inclusive political process that puts an end to violence.
“I think we’ve been very clear that we believe an inclusive process means the participation of all parties. And certainly the detainment of many members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Mr Morsi, makes it difficult to move forward with that,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington yesterday.
The Brotherhood and its allies insist that Mr Morsi must be reinstated, but the military-backed government is pushing ahead with a transition plan that provides for parliamentary and presidential elections early next year.
After their talks with Ashton, a delegation of Islamist politicians representing the pro-Morsi camp said the military-backed government must take the first step toward any reconciliation by releasing jailed Brotherhood leaders, ending the crackdown on their protests and stopping media campaigns against Islamists.
“Creating the atmosphere requires those in authority now to send messages of reassurance,” Mohammed Mahsoub, of the Islamist Wasat Party, told reporters.
Speaking alongside a Brotherhood official and another Islamist politician, Mr Mahsoub appeared to be sticking by the demand to reinstate Mr Morsi by saying any solution must be on a “constitutional basis”.
But a spokesman for military-backed interim President Adly Mansour suggested yesterday that there would be no deviation from the transition plan. When asked about reconciliation initiatives on the table, Ahmed el-Muslemani said: “The ship has sailed and we have no way but to go forward.”