Deposed President Mohamed Morsi and other political prisoners should be released from custody, Catherine Ashton, European Union representative for foreign affairs and security policy, emphasized in a statement published after her visit to Cairo.
“I have made it clear in my statements and all the meetings I had that I believe Mr. Morsi should be released, and that I believe that political prisoners should be released,” she said. “I make the distinction between people who may be charged for other things, and those being held. I was assured he is well. I would have liked to have seen him. I was assured that he is well-cared for.”
In the statement, published on on the official website of the European Union on July 17, Ashton said she met with several members of the transition government, including interim President Adly Mansour, Vice President for International Relations Mohamed ElBaradei, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The EU delegate also met with members of the Tamarod (Rebel) campaign, the grassroots movement that claimed to have collected 22 million signatures on a petition calling for Morsi’s ouster, finally prompting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to remove him from office on July 3.
Ashton also said she met with former Prime Minister Hesham Qandil, a Morsi appointee who is a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political arm.
In these conversations with the transition government, Ashton reiterated the importance of an inclusive process. “It’s important — not only for the Freedom and Justice Party, but for all those involved in the future of the country — to know that the future really is about ensuring that everybody can be engaged,” Ashton wrote.
The visit signals a more conciliatory position toward the shifting political tides in Egypt. Ashton had initially described the events as a military coup.
Amr Darrag, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, said he was disappointed by Ashton’s visit and her scant support for the Muslim Brotherhood. “We are not expecting support from anybody. We are relying only on ourselves,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Meanwhile, Gehad al-Haddad, Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson, told Reuters on Thursday that the group is seeking EU mediation for a framework for negotiations as a way out of the current political crisis. Haddad said that the proposal has been made to EU Envoy Bernardino Leon ahead of Ashton’s visit. The details of the official call for negotiations were not released but Haddad insisted on the reversal of Morsi’s ouster as a point of departure for talks.
European diplomatic efforts are stepping up as US government officials continue to condemn Morsi’s ouster as an illegitimate power grab on the part of the military.
In a meeting on July 16 with William Burns, US deputy secretary of state, Sisi reportedly warned that military relations between Egypt and the US could be halted if Washington didn’t stop threatening to withhold its annual US$1.3 billion in aid.
Even before Morsi’s ouster, European diplomacy had been on the rise. In an exclusive published on July 17, Reuters reported that EU officials had managed to convince members of the National Salvation Front — the main opposition coalition under the Brotherhood government — to accept Morsi’s presidency provided he would sack his appointed prime minister, key ministers and the disputed prosecutor general. However, Morsi did not make any of these concessions, leading to a break down in those negotiations.