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Envoys seek a bridge between hard choices In Egypt

Published August 5, 2013 4:40 pm

Crisis • Diplomats meet a jailed Muslim Brotherhood leader, but no breakthrough has been reported.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cairo • Foreign diplomats met with a jailed leader of the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday as part of an intensifying international effort to end the political crisis that began after Egypt's security services deposed President Mohammed Morsi last month.

In a maximum-security prison south of Cairo, diplomats from the United States and the European Union met with the Brotherhood's chief strategist, Khayrat el-Shater, one of several Islamist leaders detained over the last month, according to a Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad. El-Haddad said the meeting, which was described to him as brief and at one point heated, did not result in any immediate breakthrough.

El-Shater told the diplomats "the only one who holds the key is President Morsi," el-Haddad said. "They are trying to find someone to speak to who can loosen the deadlock."

A steady stream of foreign emissaries have visited Egypt since July 27, when the police and civilian allies opened fire on a protest by Morsi's supporters, killing 80 people, the second mass killing by the security services since the former president's ouster on July 3. The visits have been an attempt to stave off further violence, after the authorities vowed last week to end two large sit-ins by tens of thousands of Morsi's supporters.

The emissaries, including William J. Burns, the U.S. deputy secretary of state who arrived here Friday, are trying to advance negotiations between the military, which directed the ouster of Morsi, and the Brotherhood, but their positions remain, at least publicly, far apart. Adding to the effort was the expected arrival Monday of two U.S. senators, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans.

El-Haddad said el-Shater, who is being held at Al-Aqrab prison, had not been expecting Burns and the other diplomats, including those from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Qatar had been one of Morsi's most ardent supporters, while the Emirates have been among the Brotherhood's most strident critics.

After greeting them, el-Shater had a "heated confrontation" with one diplomat in the group. "They wanted to discuss the sit-ins," said el-Haddad, who said he heard an account of the meeting from the relative of another Brotherhood member being held at the prison.

El-Shater told the envoys they would have to negotiate with Morsi and that any solution would require the restoration of "constitutional legitimacy," according to el-Haddad, who described the meeting as a "swift chat."