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Egyptian Military Warns Of Crackdown On Morsi Supporters


In Egypt, the military-backed government issued a warning today: A crackdown is imminent. The target: supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi who have been protesting at two sit-in camps in Cairo for more than a month. The warning comes after the interim president declared diplomatic efforts to end the political crisis a failure.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo with the latest. And, Soraya, have Egyptian officials said when this crackdown will take place and what it will entail?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, based on the statements that we've heard from the government today, it doesn't appear it will happen until Sunday, which is the end of Ramadan, which, of course, is the Muslim fasting month. The authorities say they're going to continue to ask protesters to leave voluntarily, but at some point will cordon off those sit-ins that they're going after and eventually will forcibly evacuate them. This is likely to lead to bloodshed as the protesters have vowed not to leave.

CORNISH: Now, why is the interim government so determined to break up these sit-ins?

NELSON: Publicly, what they've - what the officials have been saying is that these are breeding grounds for violence and terrorism, and it's something that the prime minister reiterated during his brief statement on state television today.

Prosecutors say that they're also investigating complaints of people being held against their will at these sit-ins, of being tortured. What's not talked about, though, is that there's a lingering embarrassment for the interim government about having these sit-ins sort of cast the light about the military coup that ousted Mohammed Morsi in the first place.

CORNISH: What's the Muslim Brotherhood's response?

NELSON: Well, the leaders of the group, or at least the leaders that are not in jail, don't seem to be that worried about what they're hearing. They insist they will stay in these sit-ins, that they will continue to protest until Morsi is restored as president. They've also said nothing new about the diplomatic efforts that have been going on, but earlier this week said that anybody who comes to Egypt to try and mediate should be talking to Morsi and not to other leaders.

CORNISH: Why did the interim president say the international efforts to end the crisis had failed?

NELSON: Well, his office issued a number of statements today blaming the Muslim Brotherhood in its refusal to renounce violence and renounce bloodshed. And then Adly Mansour, the interim president, during a speech on state TV a short while ago, said his government had cooperated fully with the diplomats who've come here in the past 10 days from the United States, from Europe, from Africa and from the Middle East and that they will continue to work with those diplomats or with anyone else who wants to come on a transition to democracy.

CORNISH: Now, Egyptian officials obviously didn't like what Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to say yesterday during their visit to Cairo. And as you reported, Egyptian state TV outlets stopped broadcasting that news conference after McCain referred to Mohammed Morsi's ouster as a military coup. Did that have an effect? Is that what we're seeing in today's announcement?

NELSON: Well, nobody connected the dots, but it's clear that it bolstered their case for saying, you know what, this isn't working, and we need to move on. But there are some analysts like Shadi Hamid, who's the - who heads research at the Brookings Doha Center, who says that these talks never had any chance of succeeding in the first place because neither side is willing to compromise. He also accused the diplomats who've come of not sending a strong enough message.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.