Some hope the EU could play a major role in curbing the growing violence in Egypt, as Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood demands his reinstatement.
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Catherine Ashton visited Mr. Morsi on Monday night for two hours of "in-depth" discussions. Ms. Ashton is believed to be the first person outside of Egypt to have seen Morsi since he was ousted July 3 and shuttled to an undisclosed location.
The meeting raises the possibility that the EU could play a major role in trying to curb the growing violence in Egypt, as Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood demands his reinstatement. That would be a major coup for EU foreign policy, which many claim has faltered amid the biggest security issues in recent years.
As Europe’s chief diplomat, Ashton has tried to help arbitrate a solution between Egypt’s rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood. As Reuters reports, “Ashton attempted to serve as a mediator earlier this year and is seen by both sides as an important neutral voice in a country where Washington is looked upon with suspicion.”
Foreign governments are urgently seeking compromise between the two sides in the troubled country, which was profiled in this week’s
Christian Science Monitor cover story. Morsi’s ousting is considered Egypt's worst political crisis since the 2011 revolution brought down Hosni Mubarak.
For now, compromise seems far off. Some 80 Brotherhood supporters were shot dead over the weekend in clashes with security forces, and the interim government has told them to immediately abandon protests. They have refused, and say they will continue to protest until Morsi is reinstated.
"It's very simple, we are not going anywhere," Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said, according to a separate Reuters report. "We are going to increase the protest."
They have called for more protests Tuesday. According to Ahram Online:
"We never imagined that the coup perpetrators would be that bloody. The leader of the coup claimed he had popular support to practice aggressive oppression against the blood of Egyptians," read a statement released by Egypt's National Coalition for Supporting Legitimacy, which is demanding the reinstatement of Morsi. "We call on the masses to rage against the bloodshed of unarmed Egyptians and to take to the street and to continue the peaceful revolt against the oppressive measures practiced by the leaders of the coup d'état."
Earlier, a group of human rights activists and lawyers attempted to see Morsi, whose family says they haven’t communicated with him either, but those attempts faltered. "He is not a prisoner. He is kidnapped," said Negad Al Boraei, a human-rights lawyer and chairman of the Cairo-based United Group law firm, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Everybody knows that this is a political issue."
During Ashton’s visit to Egypt, which began Sunday, she met with General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the army, as well as members of the interim government installed by the army, and with representatives of the Brotherhood's political wing. Before arriving in the country she said she would be calling for a "fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The US has voiced support for EU efforts. US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters: “We fully support and appreciate her efforts to calm tensions, prevent further violence, bridge political divides and help lay the basis for a peaceful, inclusive process,” The New York Times reports.
Whether the EU will be able to bring a solution to the table remains a question mark, amid an increasingly complicated political situation in Egypt, and the EU's own foreign policy challenges at home.
The BBC recently released a video on how the EU functions, and one part of that is the European External Action Service, headed by Ashton.
The EU's new diplomatic service was one of the key innovations under the Lisbon Treaty, intended to give the EU "one voice" internationally.
The EEAS is led by Baroness Ashton from the UK, a Labor Party peer, who will step down in December 2014.
In 2012 the budget for the service was 489m euros (£422m; $649m), and it has a staff of 3,500 (1,500 in HQ and
2,000 in delegations).
There is much dispute about whether the EEAS has made EU foreign policy any more coherent. A European Parliament report this year called the service top-heavy and slow to react to crises. But Catherine Ashton's office argues that the EEAS has responded efficiently to emergencies in Africa and has achieved successes elsewhere, such as the April 2013 Serbia-Kosovo deal, reached after long, grueling talks.
Indeed, the Serbia-Kosovo deal has been, thus far, the biggest success of the EEAS. But it’s been overshadowed by other weaknesses, experts say.
Over at the Carnegie Europe blog, experts recently responded to the question of whether EU foreign policy has improved this year. Rosa Balfour, Head of the Europe in the World Program at the European Policy Center, wrote:
In short: yes, the EU foreign policy system has been improving. There have been more instances of improved coordination among the EU institutions, more joined-up thinking to develop “comprehensive approaches,” and more success stories, such as the breakthrough in Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.
But she added, “What difference does improved EU foreign policy make? Member states are split on Syria, where there is no hope that the EU will spearhead some kind of solution. The EU was unable to prevent democracy from deteriorating in Egypt, and seems quite uninfluential in shaping the outcome of the crisis there. In Eastern Europe, the EU has dithered so long that Russia has caught up on offering comprehensive policy packages that compete with the EU’s own proposals.”
A recent report by Dutch experts was more stinging: "Differences in culture and interests between the European Commission, the EEAS and EU member states," the group concluded, "are frustrating the achievement of a shared ideology and a genuine EU foreign policy.”
Opinions might shift if Ashton is able to prove an effective mediator in Egypt.