Cairo/Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat – Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “national dialogue” called for by Egyptian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief General Major General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was postponed following pressure by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi. Egyptian Defense Minister, Major General al-Sisi, had called for all political parties to conduct “national dialogue” in order to avoid Egypt entering a “dark tunnel”. The dialogue had been scheduled to take place on Wednesday but was postponed at the last minute. Sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi had pressured the military to postpone this in light of the Muslim Brotherhood’s refusal to respond to the armed forces call for dialogue, viewing this as interference on the part of the military in politics.
The Egyptian military had initially issued a statement affirming that “the armed forces…realize their responsibility to preserve the higher interests of the country and to secure and protect vital targets, public institutions and the interests of innocent citizens.” It added “the armed forces affirm that dialogue is the best and only way to reach consensus. The opposite of that will bring us to a dark tunnel that will result in catastrophe and that is something we will not allow.”
However the Egyptian Armed Forces issued an official statement on Wednesday announcing the postponement of the national dialogue, citing the unenthusiastic response by the concerned political parties. Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi had confirmed that he would attend this meeting, as did senior National Salvation Front figures Amr Moussa, Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabbahi. The official statement asserted that the military-backed national dialogue would be postponed until a later date.
However a well-informed source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, claimed that this dialogue had not been postponed, but cancelled, following pressure by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi. The source added that this move represents a huge insult to the Egyptian public, who respect and appreciate the role of Egypt’s armed forces to protect Egyptian national unity.
For his part, Dr. Gamal Heshmat, a member of the Freedom and Justice Party’s National Committee, stressed that the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party was the first to respond to the military’s call for national dialogue. He added that the Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party had no objection to this national dialogue, and had nothing to do with its postponement.
In an official statement on the Freedom and Justice Party’s website, Dr. Heshmat claimed that political opponents were spreading false rumors that the Brotherhood was responsible for the national dialogue’s postponement and that the Muslim Brotherhood General Guide was interfering with the operations of the presidency, however he stressed that this was completely untrue. He said that anybody making such claims must produce evidence, adding that many parties are seeking to embarrass and insult the presidency by spreading false rumors and lies.
For its part, the Egyptian presidency completely denied exerting any pressure on the armed forces to postpone or cancel the national dialogue.
Whilst the US State Department warned Cairo to exercise restraint in the face of widespread protests against the draft constitution. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said “we continue to have deep concerns about the situation in Egypt. Our Ambassador and our other officials there are talking to all of the different stakeholders. We again call on those who are demonstrating to do so peacefully. We call on Egypt’s leaders and security forces to respect the right of peaceful express and to exercise restraint.”
She added “we want to see these issues resolved democratically, we want to see them resolved consensually, we want to see them resolved through a process of consultation, without any preconditions, that result in more national unity in Egypt, more democracy in Egypt, and a sense of belonging for all Egyptians.”