CAIRO, (Reuters) – The Muslim Brotherhood on Monday rejected pleas from international envoys to “swallow the reality” that Mohamed Mursi will not return as Egypt’s president.
The envoys from the United States and the European Union, trying to resolve a political crisis brought on by the army’s overthrow of the Islamist Mursi a month ago, visited jailed Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater in the early hours of Monday.
But he cut the meeting short, saying they should be talking to Mursi, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said. People briefed on the meeting described it as long, in some moments intense, but constructive and useful.
From the other side, a senior military source said the army and interim government would offer to free some jailed Muslim Brotherhood members, unfreeze its assets and give it three ministerial posts, in a move to end the crisis.
A source involved in the diplomatic initiative said the releases from prison were expected within hours.
The releases would be a confidence building measure, and the Brotherhood would be expected to make goodwill gestures to show they have good intentions.
The army spokesman, Ahmed Ali, said no deal had been reached between the Brotherhood, the military and the government to end Egypt’s political crisis.
Several thousand Islamist supporters marched through downtown Cairo calling for Mursi’s reinstatement and denouncing the army general who led his overthrow.
Marchers chanted: “Mursi, Mursi” and “We are not terrorists”, and waved pictures of the ousted leader.
The protest showed tensions still running dangerously high in Egypt despite the mediation effort by the United States, the European Union, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
“Things should move soon, otherwise we shall miss this opportunity. This is all still incredibly fragile.” said a source involved in the diplomatic initiative.
Mursi became Egypt’s first freely-elected president in June 2012, 16 months after the overthrow of U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled for nearly 30 years.
But fears that he was trying to establish an Islamist autocracy, coupled with a failure to ease economic hardships afflicting most of Egypt’s 84 million people, led to huge street demonstrations, triggering the army move.
Speaking about the talks in recent days, Brotherhood spokesman Haddad said the envoys “still carry the position that we should swallow the reality and accept that the military coup has happened and try to recover with minimum damage”.
“We refuse to do so,” Haddad told Reuters.
There was no agreement on how to start talks, he added.
The state news agency said earlier that diplomats, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and European Union envoy Bernardino Leon, had met Shater after midnight at the Tora Prison where he is being held south of Cairo.
Shater is seen as the political strategist of the group that propelled Mursi to office last year, and was arrested on charges of inciting violence after Mursi’s downfall.
He told the envoys that only Mursi could “solve the mess” and the only solution was “full restoration of constitutional legitimacy and reversal of the coup”, Haddad said.
“They invited him for discussions but he ended it abruptly … then he walked out of the room,” Haddad said.
Mursi is being held at an undisclosed location, facing an investigation into accusations including murder. Most of the rest of the Brotherhood’s leadership is also in custody.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Burns had no plans to meet Mursi. She suggested no breakthroughs were imminent.