CAIRO — Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi on Saturday defied calls to dismantle a bustling encampment in Cairo that they have occupied for a month, saying that if they are cleared out by force they will simply take their protests elsewhere.
On a day when U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns met with top Egyptian officials and with representatives from a coalition of Morsi supporters, neither side appeared any closer to standing down and both sides said they were deeply skeptical of U.S. motivations and behavior in their country.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone Saturday morning to the man who toppled Morsi, Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, expressing “concern about the recent violence in Egypt” and urging the general “to support an inclusive political process,” according to a Pentagon spokesman.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry, meanwhile, offered safe passage to protesters who want to leave, saying Saturday on state television that protesters had been “brainwashed” by the Morsi-affiliated Muslim Brotherhood leadership that is leading the sit-ins and that leaving “will allow the Brotherhood to return to its role as part of the democratic, noble political process.”
Security forces appear to be adopting a gradual approach to clearing the demonstrations after having killed at least 140 Morsi supporters in conflicts over the past month. The sit-in around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the Nasr City area of Cairo has turned into a full-fledged tent city complete with electricity and satellite television — and, on Saturday, at least one small playground, where a giggling boy waved an Egyptian flag as he played on a swing and a girl spun on a merry-go-round.
“The peaceful resistance to this coup will last for years even if Rabaa is dispersed,” said a senior Brotherhood official, Mohammed el-Beltagy. “And if Rabaa is dispersed, I assure you we will have more than 100 Rabaas in a minute.” He accused the United States of having organized the effort to oust Morsi from “A to Z.”
One protester said she did not think the encampment would be easy to besiege.
“From what I’ve seen, people will continue to protest even without food and drink,” said Noura Saadallah, 25, a law student at Cairo University who was protesting at the mosque Saturday.
Despite international efforts to prevent bloodshed and to bring the two sides together for negotiation, they remain far apart. The State Department said that Burns, together with European Union envoy Bernardino Leon, met with interim president Adly Mansour, interim vice president Mohamed ElBaradei, interim foreign minister Nabil Fahmy and members of the Coalition for Legitimacy. He also met separately with Leon and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed.
Fahmy, when asked during a Saturday news conference whether the Muslim Brotherhood was a terrorist group — a term that would seem to discourage dialogue — said that “they have the opportunity to prove otherwise.”
Abigail Hauslohner, Lara el-Gibaly and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.