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US envoy walks a diplomatic tightrope in Cairo

During the first visit to Egypt by a senior US official since President Mohammed Morsi's ouster, US envoy William Burns (left) met with Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour (right) in Cairo, where anti-US sentiment is running high on all sides.

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US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Egypt’s interim leaders in Cairo on Monday as the country braced for fresh protests by supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

Burns is the first senior US official to visit Egypt since Morsi’s July 3 ouster, which has deeply divided Egyptian society and threatens to jeopardize efforts to return the country to a democratic system of governance.

At least seven people were killed and 261 injured during overnight clashes in Cairo between supporters and opponents of ousted president Mohammed Morsi as well as security forces, Egypt's emergency services said on Tuesday.

On the first day of his two-day visit, Burns met with Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour and prime minister-designate Hazem el-Beblawi, as well as army chief and Defence Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah al Sissi.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo shortly after his meetings, Burns maintained that the US does not seek to impose its vision on Egypt. He also reiterated that Washington does not support any particular party or personality.

"We don't take the side of particular personalities or particular parties," said Burns. "I did not come with American solutions, nor did I come to lecture anyone. We will not try to impose our model on Egypt."

US walks a tightrope between deeply divided camps

Burns’s visit comes as Morsi supporters and opponents are furious with the US, which provides Egypt with $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

Reporting from Cairo, FRANCE 24’s Kathryn Stapley said the pro and anti-Morsi camps have not welcomed Burns’s visit.

“The anti-Morsi Tamarod campaign, which spearheaded the big June 30 protest that ousted Mohammed Morsi have refused to meet with William Burns because according to the Tamarod campaign, the US is on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Stapley.

“On the other hand,” she added, “the pro-Morsi camp accuses the US of siding with the military because Washington has refused to come out and call what happened here a military coup against a democratically elected leader.”

Under the terms of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, the US must suspend foreign aid to any nation whose elected leader is ousted in a coup d'état.

But Washington has so far declined to call Morsi’s ouster a coup in what analysts say is an attempt by the Obama administration to retain leverage in the world’s most populous Arab nation, which also shares a border and a peace deal with Israel.

Prior to Burns’s arrival in Cairo, the US State Department said he would meet "civil society groups" as well as government officials and party representatives. But the Salafist Nour Party as well as Tamarod officials have declined to meet Burns.

Speaking to FRANCE 24, Omar Ashour, a Middle East expert at the University of Exeter, said the US is trying to play its cards carefully with the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood to reassure both sides.

“I think they [the US] will try to act as the guarantors of any deal that is struck between the two sides,” said Ashour. “They have a few cards to pressure the army. They will also tell the Muslim Brotherhood that you are paralysing Cairo and the rest of the country and we can guarantee your [political] inclusion as well as stop the repression that’s happening to your members.”

Public prosecutor orders arrest of Brotherhood leaders

Nearly two weeks after his ouster, Morsi’s whereabouts have not been publicly revealed despite calls for his reinstatement by Brotherhood supporters who have maintained a round-the-clock vigil near a mosque in northeast Cairo.

Last week, Egyptian authorities ordered the arrest of several senior Muslim Brotherhood members, a move that led a US warning against “arbitrary arrests” of their political opponents.

On Monday, Egypt’s public prosecutor released a new list of Muslim Brotherhood leaders charged with inciting violence, according to Reuters.

The new list includes leading Brotherhood figures Essam El-Erian and Mohamed El-Beltagi, both of whom were attending a demonstration on Monday, according to the Brotherhood. They were also included in a similar list last week of people charged with inciting violence, but have not been arrested.

During his visit to Egypt on Monday, Burns once again called on the Egyptian military to avoid politically motivated arrests.

"If representatives of some of the largest parties in Egypt are detained or excluded, how are dialogue and participation possible?" Burns asked. He also urged those opposed to Morsi's ouster to participate in the political process peacefully.

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