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Egypt: Mursi supporters defy interior ministry warnings to protest - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Supporters of Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Mursi gather during their open sit in outside Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 1, 2013. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Supporters of Egypt’s deposed president, Mohamed Mursi, gather during their open sit-in outside Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on August 1, 2013. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi called for mass demonstrations on Friday, defying an interior ministry call for Muslim Brotherhood supporters to break up the two major pro-Mursi sit-ins taking place in Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Nahda squares.

Egypt’s Ahram newspaper reported that secret negotiations between Cairo and the Muslim Brotherhood are underway to avoid an escalation in Egypt’s current political crisis.

Ahram reported that communications between the Muslim Brotherhood and state apparatus started late on Thursday and continued into Friday morning with the aim of avoiding further escalation and bloodshed.

The newspaper revealed that negotiations are pressuring both sides to reach a deal in order to avoid further violence. The Brotherhood reportedly called on the Egyptian authorities to release some of the organizations’ leading figures arrested following Mursi’s ouster as a gesture of goodwill, while Cairo called on the Brotherhood to cease discourse inciting violence.

Ahram reported that a public reconciliation initiative will be launched on Friday if the day ends without bloodshed.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s call for further protests came after US secretary of state John Kerry backed the military-led ouster of Egypt’s first Islamist and democratically elected president, saying it had been backed by millions of Egyptians.

“The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descent into chaos,” Kerry told Pakistan’s Geo television.

“And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment so far,” he added.

However the Muslim Brotherhood condemned Kerry’s statement, calling on Washington to rethink its position towards what it has dubbed a “blood military coup.”

“We totally reject these statements and we are very disappointed in them,” senior Muslim Brotherhood leader and former Mursi-era minister, Mohamed Ali Bishr, said.

Speaking to Reuters, Bishr stressed: “The United States is a country that speaks of democracy and human rights and they say something like that. I hope they rethink their position and correct it.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned Egypt’s interim leadership against ending pro-Mursi sit-ins by force, saying that it could lead to a “bloodbath.”

HRW deputy Middle East director, Nadim Houry, said: “To avoid another bloodbath, Egypt’s civilian rulers need to ensure the on-going right of protesters to assemble peacefully, and seek alternatives to a forcible dispersal of the crowds.”

“The police’s persistent record of excessive use of force, leading to dozens of deaths this month, and the density of the sit-ins mean that hundreds of lives could be lost if the sit-in is forcibly dispersed,” Houry added.

The UN also said that peaceful protests in Egypt “should be allowed to go on,” according to state news agency MENA.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly need to be guaranteed,” Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said.

Egypt’s interim authorities have issued numerous warnings to Mursi’s supporters to disperse from Cairo’s streets and squares and return to their homes. The Egyptian authorities’ repeated calls for an end to the Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Nahda Square protests in Cairo raises fears that the police will seek to forcibly shut them down.

Update: Egypt state TV reported on Friday that security forces will besiege the pro-Mursi Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Nahda Square sit-ins. State TV said the siege will begin in 48 hours.