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Gap between pro- and anti-Morsi groups widens

12 July 2013

REUTERS

Stand-off: army soldiers stand guard near the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, on Monday

Stand-off: army soldiers stand guard near the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, on Monday

THE interim leader of Egypt, Adli Mansour, is struggling to achieve political consensus after a week in which the gap between supporters and opponents of the former President, Mohammed Morsi, widened still further. The Muslim Brotherhood says that its supporters will keep up their street protests until Mr Morsi, who was chosen in free and fair elections, is returned to office.

An interim Prime Minister has been appointed, but the Brotherhood insists that it will turn down any offer to serve in the transitional administration.

To complicate matters further, the main anti-Muslim Brotherhood opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, said on Tuesday night that it rejected a timetable of measures leading to new elections. The leaders of the populist Tamarrod movement also refused to accept the proposed timetable.

The army, which intervened last week and removed Mr Morsi from power, is feeling the full force of the Muslim Brotherhood's anger. Hostility increased sharply on Monday, when at least 51 Brotherhood supporters were shot dead by troops outside the building in Cairo where Mr Morsi is being held.

The army said that soldiers opened fire when armed thugs attempted to storm the building. The Brotherhood described the incident as a massacre. The Salafist al-Nour party withdrew from discussions aimed at choosing an interim Prime Minister and cabinet, in protest at the killings on Monday.

With the country's two main Islamist groups refusing to co-operate with Mr Mansour, the chances of achieving political consensus seem slim. Nevertheless, Mr Mansour has presented a timetable for the transition towards a new elected administration. A committee will be formed within the coming two weeks to review the constitution. A referendum to approve those changes will be held by December, with parliamentary elections taking place early next year. After that, polling for a new president will be planned.

For now, this timetable appears to have more academic than practical value. Even choosing an interim prime minister proved to be a challenge, with the post eventually going to a former finance minister, Hazem el-Beblawi. The leader of the NSF, Mohamed ElBaradei, was appointed interim Deputy President - despite, confusingly, the Front's apparent rejection of the transition timetable.

Shortly after the army takeover last week, the President-Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, issued a statement saying: "Egypt is now free at last from the oppressive rule of the Muslim Brotherhood." The army, he said, had taken "the side of the millions of Egyptians who demonstrated in the streets against President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood".

Bishop Anis described the military's move as "an answer to the prayers of so many people from around the world who were praying for our beloved country, Egypt".

The Bible Society of Egypt, in its online newsletter, urged its readers to "rejoice with us for the remarkable events happening in our country. Pray that the unprecedented unity, expressed between all Egyptians who reject the forceful imposition of political Islam, will result in a new Egypt, where people with different persuasions can live alongside one another in harmony."

But there were warnings of darker times ahead. Bishop Anis urged worshippers to "continue to pray for Christians' protection from the violent reaction of the Islamists, which already has started". A Coptic priest in Sinai was shot dead on Saturday, after publicly praising the actions of the military, and attacks on Christians and Christian property have been reported in several areas. The Muslim Brotherhood has criticised the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II for supporting the ousting of Mr Morsi, and attending the ceremony at which the country's constitution was suspended.

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said that it was unfortunate that the unified effort of millions of Egyptians demanding peaceful change was "being undermined by needless violence and bloodshed". He said that, starting on Tuesday this week, his Church was dedicating three days to "prayer for peace, reconciliation, and an end to needless violence and loss of life in Egypt".

Governments around the world have been uncertain how to react to these upheavals, with satisfaction that the Islamisation of the country had been halted matched by concern at the flouting of democracy. There is general agreement, however, that negotiations represent the only way forward.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said last weekend that it was "imperative for Egyptians to work together to chart a peaceful return to civilian control, constitutional order, and democratic governance", and that political leaders should commit themselves to a "peaceful and democratic dialogue which includes all of Egypt's constituencies".

But, while the army and the Muslim Brotherhood remain at loggerheads, reconciliation is likely to remain beyond reach.

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