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Opinion: Ashton spoke, but who listened? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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epa03807721 Egyptians supporting ousted president Mohamed Morsi carry mock coffins during a prtest at Ramsis field in Cairo, Egypt, 30 July 2013. Egyptian authorities on 26 July ordered ousted president Mohammed Morsi to be detained for 15 days pending further investigations on charges of conspiring to carry out ‘hostile acts’ in the country, state-run newspaper […]

How can the right message get to the right people? Egyptians are divided into rival camps, and their dispute is getting more complicated. They need someone to figure out a solution for this emergency situation because, as time goes by, it may become even more inflexible and complex. As clashes intensify, the solution becomes impossible.

The trip to Egypt by EU’s diplomatic representative, Catherine Ashton, was an opportunity to test the waters before getting involved with the task of attempting to change the situation, which is complicated but not impossible to resolve.

The opposition and the Muslim Brotherhood—whether through their funeral demonstrations or through protests that turn deadly—are incapable of forcing the army and other political parties to withdraw their decisions. Likewise, the other side, which has mobilized army tanks and millions of protesters, has also failed to force the Brotherhood to submit to the fait accompli of Mursi’s ouster.

The issue at hand does not require well-informed sources to tell us what Ashton proposed during her visit. It is certain that she told the military that it cannot simply erase the ousted regime. She must have told the Brotherhood that it does not have the power to force the return of Mursi to the presidency, as too much has happened now. The expected solution she proposed is a political reconciliation in which early elections are held.

I do not think she proposed treacherous ideas. Her body language and statements suggest she called for reconciliation and warned against being dragged into serious clashes.

However, the concern is not of the clear messages she passed on, but the interpretation of what the two opposing parties may think are coded messages. Unfortunately, this is what usually happens in the region. Everyone strives to make interpretations rather than actually listen.

Is it possible to misinterpret the clear message conveyed by the EU envoy? Yes. The Brotherhood could understand Ashton’s visit to Cairo to imply a rejection of the military, the interim government and support for the former government. On the basis of this interpretation, the Brotherhood would increase its stubbornness.

The current ruling parties, the Tamarod group, and clerics calling for “rescue,” may see that Ashton did not force them to adopt a solution and therefore may see maintaining their position without making any concessions to the Brotherhood as a possibility.

The situation is critical in Egypt, but a solution is not impossible. There are things that can be agreed on in a manner that maintains the rights and preserves the dignity of both sides.

Everything can be negotiated, except Mursi’s return to the presidency—a demand that the Brotherhood knows will be impossible to fulfil. Thus, the solution can be as follows: a consensual cabinet, a short-term interim government and internationally supervised elections in which the Brotherhood participates. Then, everyone can return home claiming that they have got what they wanted.

Without this, the Brotherhood will not have a chance to participate in an open political process. And without the Brotherhood, there cannot be a genuine democracy. As such, a possible solution is an agreement to end the dispute with the understanding that Mursi will not return to power, and that neither the military nor the interim president Adly Mansour shall remain.