Egypt crisis: overview and reactions

Today the Egyptian army has tightened security in Cairo and in other cities in response to calls from the Muslim Brotherhood for marches from 28 mosques after Friday prayers. It has been reported that security forces closed off entrances and roads leading to Cairo's Tahrir Square with armoured personnel carriers and barbed wire. In the meantime, protests have started across the country. The Muslim Brotherhood announced these protests after hundreds of people were killed in police action that ended two sit-ins in Cairo that began after the army deposed President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. The Muslim Brotherhood has called the day "Friday of rage". This was the same title that was given on January 28, 2011, during the 18-day revolt against Hosni Mubarak's rule. There are fears of renewed clashes after authorities have said the police are entitled to use live ammunition to protect themselves and key state institutions from attack.

Background
Since President Mohamed Morsi was toppled by the military on 3 July after weeks of mass unrest against his rule, unrest increased in Egypt. After he was deposed Mursi was put in house arrest after denouncing what he called a "military coup" that stripped him of power a year after he was democratically elected. Since then supporters of Morsi started to organise street protests to condemn what they called a military coup and ask the interim-military government for the release of Morsi. On 16 July an interim cabinet of 33 ministers was sworn in. This cabinet mostly consists of technocrats and liberals and is led by interim head of state Adli Mansour. On 27 July violence increased after security forces shoot dead at least 80 Muslim Brotherhood supporters following a day of rival mass rallies. Beginning of August, after several days of international mediation efforts collapsed, the interim-government repeated its threat to take action against Morsi’s supporters.

On 14 August, Egypt imposed a one-month state of emergency after hundreds of people were killed in a raid on Cairo protesters demanding Morsi’s return. Hundreds of people were killed when Egyptian security forces moved in to clear camps in Cairo occupied by supporters of ousted President Morsi. Armed vehicles dispersed protesters who had been holding sit-ins around Nahda Square and the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the capital Cairo. There were clashed also in other cities. Egypt's army-backed interim prime minister has defended the government's decision to order the crushing of camps of Morsi’ supporters, saying the authorities had no choice but to act. In a televised statement late on 14 August, Hazem el-Beblawi said the decision to break up the protests "was not easy" and came only after the government had given mediation efforts a chance. "We found that matters had reached a point that no self respecting state could accept," he said, citing what he described as "the spread of anarchy and attacks on hospitals and police stations". Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei resigned saying peaceful means could still have been found to end the confrontation, but other members of the government have rallied behind the decision to use force.

Peace plan rejected
A few hours before the killings in Cairo began on 14 August, the EU's special envoy to the Middle East, Bernardino Leon, told the Egyptian army rejected a peace deal with the Muslim Brotherhood. He told international media that he and US diplomat William Burns had tried to broker an agreement between the military and the brothers on how to end their month-long sit-ins in two city squares. "We had a political plan that was on the table, that had been accepted by the other side [the brotherhood] … They [the army] could have taken this option. So all that has happened today was unnecessary," he said after the violent clashes. He noted that he made a final appeal on the peace plan to military chiefs "hours" before they ordered the assault, at 7am local time on Wednesday (14 August), using armoured bulldozers and live ammunition against people in tent camps.

International reactions
After the violent clashes on 14 August EU’s Foreign Chief, Catherine Ashton, released a statement saying: “We are following the ongoing situation in Egypt with great concern. The confrontation and violence... is not a way forward to address the main political issues and challenges the country is facing at the moment”. The European Union has said top officials from its member states will meet on 19 August to review the crisis in Egypt. The meeting will look at the situation in Egypt ahead of a possible meeting of EU foreign ministers, Catherine Ashton's European External Action Service said on Twitter.

US President Barack Obama strongly condemned the violence against Egyptian civilians, and has cancelled joint military exercises scheduled for next month, saying that they cannot continue to cooperate with the armed forces in light of its crackdown on protesters. “Force was not the way to resolve political differences”.

The UN secretary general condemned in the strongest terms the 14 August violence in Cairo. The secretary general regretted that Egyptian authorities chose to use force to respond to the ongoing demonstrations. The United National Security Council (UNSC) called for an end to the violence that followed on 14 August. “The view of council members is that it is important to end violence in Egypt and that the parties exercise maximum restraint,” Argentine UN Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval, the current UNSC president, said on behalf of the 15-member council. “There was a common desire on the need to stop violence and to advance national reconciliation.” The council met on 15 August for an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Egypt, where UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed members on the recent clashes behind closed doors. The meeting was jointly requested by France, Britain and Australia. It is unlikely that the Security Council will take any action in the future, with Russia and China traditionally opposing foreign involvement in a country’s domestic affairs. Outside of the Security Council, countries have already taken steps in response to the violence in Egypt. Next to the U.S. also the foreign ministries of Great Britain, France, Spain and Germany summoned the Egyptian ambassadors in their countries following the August 14 clashes.

What’s next?
Mursi was not able to keep the promise he had given to the Egyptians on governing for all Egyptians. Once the Muslim Brotherhood came in power, something they had worked for for more than 80 years, they were determined to seize their chance to reshape Egypt into the way they wanted. Mohamed Mursi, the public face of the Muslim Brotherhood's top political leadership, behaved as if he had an overwhelming mandate to transform Egypt into a much more Islamist state. Many Egyptians are Muslims, but that did not automatically mean they shared the Brotherhood's austere vision of the future. On top of that, some of the things Mursi promised, such as improving the economy, he did not realize. By the end of June 2013, the discontent that had built in Egypt burst out into the huge protest marches that gave the military its chance to remove President Morsi. The move was very popular with a lot of Egyptians, except the Muslim Brotherhood. Currently Egypt is under emergency law which gives the state a lot of powers. The international community is strongly opposed to a return to a State of Emergency law, and has called on the government to respect basic human rights such as freedom of peaceful assembly. It is difficult to predict how the situation will develop. Both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood have a different view for Egypt, but both agree that the future of its generation is at stake. 

You can follow live coverage of the situation in Egypt on BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23725086 and Reuters http://live.reuters.com/Event/Egypt_Unrest_3

Sources: http://www.maannews.net/eng/   http://www.dailynewsegypt.com; http://www.aljazeera.com

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