Signs of thaw emerge as ex-PM brings out proposal to ease tensions

Egypt was on knife-edge on Friday after supporters and opponents of deposed President Mohamed Morsy poured into separate locations in Cairo — anxiety gripping their assemblage — after the interim government formally levelled criminal charges against Mr. Morsy.

Mr. Morsy is being held in detention for an initial period of 15 days, for plotting a violent jailbreak with the Palestinian Hamas in the midst of an uprising in 2011 that brought down former President, Hosni Mubarak.

The charges relate to his escape in 2011 from the Wadi Natroun prison, where he was held for two days by the government of Mr. Mubarak.

The state-run MENA news agency reported that Mr. Morsy is accused of conspiring with Hamas to storm police stations and prisons, “setting fire to one prison and enabling inmates to flee, including himself, as well as premeditated killing of officers, soldiers and prisoners”.

Analysts point out that the interim government was under pressure from western governments and international organisations to either release Mr. Morsy or to file formal charges against him.

Accusations

A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, Gehad el-Haddad, trashed the accusations against the deposed President as “ridiculous”, reminiscent of the machinations of the “old regime”.

Tahrir Square, the hub of the anti-Morsy demonstrators, bore a familiar appearance on Friday afternoon. Many at the Square held aloft pictures of Defence Minister Abdel Fatah El-Sisi — the face of the July 3 coup — while helicopters flew low overhead.

The rally was the result of a call on Wednesday by General El-Sisi, who had wanted Egyptians to demonstrate in strength in order to give the military a “mandate” to tackle the rapidly spiraling acts of “violence and terrorism”.

The military has also issued an ultimatum to the Muslim Brotherhood — Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation — to endorse a process of political reconciliation by Saturday afternoon.

The army said that it would continue to protect peaceful protests, but “turn its guns” on those who resorted to violence and terrorism.

The judicial order against Mr. Morsy fuelled anger and added a sense of urgency to the pro-Morsy demonstrations in Cairo.

Huge crowds had gathered at the city’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. Many protesters at the venue chanted: “Sisi out! Morsy is President! Down with the army!”

Counter roadmap

The Brotherhood has so far refrained from a political dialogue, focusing on seeking Mr. Morsy’s return to the presidency by demonstrating raw street power. But the first signs of a political thaw since the coup emerged when Hisham Qandil, Prime Minister under Mr. Morsy proposed a counter roadmap to ease tensions.

Mr. Qandil said that progress could be achieved if the army released political prisoners detained following its July 3 takeover. He also demanded an independent investigation into the deaths of 51 people during firing outside the Republican Guard Headquarters on July 8.

Besides, he called for a visit by a delegation to check on Mr. Morsy’s health, and proposed the scaling down of rallies. The interim government is yet to respond to Mr. Qandil’s call.