The EU’s special envoy to the Middle East, Bernardino Leon, has said the Egyptian army rejected a peace deal with the Muslim Brotherhood a few hours before the killing in Cairo began.
He told Reuters that he and US diplomat William Burns in recent days brokered an agreement between the military and the brothers on how to end their month-long sit-ins in two city squares.
“We had a political plan that was on the table, that had been accepted by the other side [the brotherhood] … They [the army] could have taken this option. So all that has happened today was unnecessary,” he said.
He noted that he made a final appeal on the peace plan to military chiefs “hours” before they ordered the assault, at 7am local time on Wednesday (14 August), using armoured bulldozers and live ammunition against people in tent camps.
For her part, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton made three statements as events unfolded.
The first one, issued by a spokesman at noon, called on all sides to show restraint.
The second one, a few hours later, urged “security forces to exercise utmost restraint” and told protesters to “avoid further provocations and escalation.”
The final statement, on Wednesday evening, called on the army to “exercise utmost restraint,” with no mention of the protesters’ role.
By the time the third one came out, 525 people, including 43 policemen, were dead, and 3,572 people were injured, according to Egyptian authorities. More than 2,000 protesters had been killed, according to a pro-brotherhood group, the Egypt Anti-Coup Alliance.
The dead include Asmaa el-Beltagy, the 17-year-old daughter of a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed el-Beltagy, who was himself arrested the same day. They also include Mick Deane, a 61-year-old British cameraman for Sky News.
The army later imposed a state of emergency which is to last one month. It also imposed a curfew, which expired at 6am on Thursday.
Reports indicate that Cairo is calm on Thursday morning.
But Anu Pulkkinen, Finland’s top diplomat in the city, told Finnish press the atmosphere is “extremely unstable” and that it is hard to move around due to army checkpoints.
Despite the crackdown, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, another pro-brotherhood group, has called for fresh, nationwide, protests.
The brothers’ el-Beltagy, shortly before his arrest, compared the situation to the civil war in Syria.
The resignation from government of Mohamed ElBaradei, the leader of Egypt’s liberal movement, which had previously backed the army, also signals a splintering of political forces.
“The beneficiaries of what happened today are the preachers of violence and terrorism, the most extremist groups,” he said in an open letter.
With some Muslims attacking Christian churches in the belief that Christians and Western states are in league with the army, ElBaradei added that Egypt’s “social fabric [is] in danger of tearing.”
Washington has echoed the EU in criticising the Egyptian military.
“The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protesters in Egypt … We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint,” a White House spokesman said.
But neither the US or the EU has spoken of suspending financial aid to the post-coup state or of other action.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said, while visiting Tunisia, it is too early to create a new EU policy.
Britain’s William Hague “condemned the use of force in clearing protests,” but said nothing on funding.
France’s Laurent Fabius appealed to “all parties” to end confrontation. Italy’s Emma Bonino called on the military to avoid another “bloodbath.” But neither one said what their countries might do next.
Denmark blocks aid
Meanwhile, Denmark and Norway took the lead in terms of reactions.
Denmark suspended two bilateral aid programmes worth €30 million and Norway has halted arms sales to Egypt.
The strongest statements came from two Islamic powers in the region.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Western “silence” on the Egyptian army’s unseating of brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in July and on earlier killings of Muslim brothers for Thursday’s deaths.
“It is clear that the international community, by supporting the military coup, and remaining silent over previous massacres … has encouraged the current administration to carry out today’s intervention,” he said.
Echoing the brotherhood’s el-Beltagy on Syria, Iran’s foreign ministry said: “Undoubtedly, the current approach … strengthens the likelihood of civil war in this great Islamic country.”