CAIRO: Egypt’s cabinet Wednesday ordered a police crackdown on protests by ousted president Mohamed Morsi’s loyalists, as European envoys headed for Cairo to try to ease tensions between the army-installed government and Islamists.
The order to the interior minister raised the prospect of a dangerous showdown just days after 82 people were killed at a pro-Morsi protest in Cairo.
It came as diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful way out of Egypt’s crisis gathered pace, with the EU and Germany sending envoys to urge a peaceful resolution to the standoff.
Adding to the tensions, however, judicial sources said prosecutors had referred the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide to trial for allegedly inciting the killing of protesters.
The cabinet’s announcement came in a statement which said that pro-Morsi protest camps at two Cairo squares were posing a “threat to national security.”
“The continuation of the dangerous situation in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares, and consequent terrorism and road blockages are no longer acceptable given the threat to national security,” it said.
“The government has decided to take all necessary measures to confront and end these dangers, and tasks the interior minster to do all that is necessary in this regard, in accordance with the constitution and law,” the statement said.
The order was met with immediate defiance by the Islamists who have been camped out for weeks calling for the reinstatement of Morsi, the Brotherhood’s elected president.
“Nothing will change,” said Gehad El-Haddad, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman for the coalition protesting Morsi’s overthrow, dismissing the order as an “attempt to terrorise Egyptians.”
In Rabaa al-Adawiya, the mood was calm after the announcement, with preparations for the Ramadan fast-breaking meal underway and no sign of an immediate increase in the security presence.
The interior ministry had already warned that the demonstrations would be dispersed “soon,” but without giving an indication of when or how.
Confrontations between Morsi loyalists and security forces have turned increasingly deadly, with 82 people killed in clashes with police on Saturday morning.
And at least 51 people were killed in earlier violence between demonstrators and soldiers outside Cairo’s Republican Guard headquarters.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including its supreme guide who is in hiding, Mohammed Badie, are facing charges related to violence that preceded Morsi’s ouster.
On Wednesday, judicial sources said Badie and imprisoned deputies Khairat al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi had been referred to trial on charges of inciting the murder of demonstrators.
The move further dims prospects for negotiations with the Islamists, who have demanded the MPs’ release as a precondition for any talks.
The allegations relate to the deaths of protesters outside the Brotherhood’s headquarters on the night of June 30.
Morsi himself has been detained on suspicion of involvement in prison breaks and the murder of policemen during the early 2011 revolt that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
The developments came as the international community stepped up efforts to push for a peaceful resolution to Egypt’s stand-off.
EU spokesman Michael Mann said on Wednesday that the bloc’s Middle East envoy, Bernardino Leon, would be in Cairo later to “continue the contacts and mediation efforts.”
And Berlin said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle would also arrive Wednesday to “promote the quick return to democratically-endorsed conditions, and the resumption of an inclusive transformation process.”
In Washington, Senator Lindsey Graham said he and fellow Republican John McCain would head to Cairo next week at the White House’s request.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton left Cairo on Tuesday after her own mediation bid, but there was no indication her meetings had brought compromise any closer.
She met with a string of officials from the military-installed interim government and the opposition, as well as Morsi.
Her meeting with him at a secret location was the ousted leader’s first announced visit, though the Egyptian presidency said on Wednesday that an African Union delegation has also held talks with the toppled head of state.
Ashton said she had had a “friendly, open and very frank discussion” at an undisclosed venue outside Cairo.
“Morsi is well,” she told reporters after the two-hour meeting.
“He has access to information in terms of TV, newspapers, so we were able to talk about the situation and we were able to talk about the need to move forward.”
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