Ashton between Egypt’s coffins and army tanks

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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How can the right people get the right message? The dispute among the Egyptians divided into rival camps is getting more complicated. They need someone to figure out a solution for this emergent situation because the situation will become more complicated as time goes by, and solutions are impossible to achieve when disputes worsen.

E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's visit to Egypt was an opportunity to test the waters before getting involved in the task of resolving the situation. The situation is complicated but not impossible to resolve.

The opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not capable of forcing the army and other political parties to withdraw their decisions through its “coffin protests,” or protests that turn deadly. The other party's mobilization of army tanks and protests also failed to force the Brotherhood to submit to the fait accompli.

Ashton’s proposal

The issue at hand does not require well-informed sources to tell us what Ashton proposed during her visit. It's certain that she told the military that it cannot simply cancel out the ousted regime. She must have told the Brotherhood that it does not have the power to impose Mohammed Mursi's return to power because too much has happened now. The expected solution she proposed is a political reconciliation in which elections are to be held very early.

E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's visit to Egypt was an opportunity to test the waters before getting involved in the task of resolving the situation.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

I do not think she proposed treacherous ideas. Her body language and statements imply she called for reconciliation and warned against being dragged into a phase of serious clashes.

Fear, however, is not of the clear messages she passed on. It's of an interpretation of what the two opposing parties may think are coded messages. Unfortunately this is what usually happens in the region. Everyone puts far more effort into making interpretations than actually listening.

Interpreting Ashton’s message

Is it possible to misinterpret the clear message conveyed by the EU envoy? Yes. The Brotherhood can analyze Ashton's visit to Cairo as a message rejecting the military, the interim government and supporting the old status quo. Based on this interpretation, the Brotherhood will increase its stubbornness.

The current ruling parties, the Tamarod group and clerics calling for “salvation,” may see that Ashton did not force them to adopt a solution and therefore they will maintain their position without making any concessions to the Brotherhood.

The situation is critical in Egypt but a solution isn’t impossible. There are aspects that can be agreed on in a manner that maintains the rights and preserves the dignity of both sides.

Everything can be negotiated, except Mursi's return to the presidency - a request that the Brotherhood knows is not possible to fulfill. Thus, the solution can be as follows: a consensual cabinet, a short term interim government and internationally supervised elections which the Brotherhood participates in. Then everyone can go back home claiming that they have got what they wanted.

Without this, the Brotherhood will not have a chance to participate in open political scene. And without the Brotherhood, political democracy will not be real. A possible solution is an agreement to end the dispute, with the understanding that Mursi will not return to power and neither the military nor interim President Adli Mansour will remain.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 31, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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