Exclusive - West warned Egypt's Sisi to the end: don't do it
By Paul Taylor
PARIS (Reuters) - Western allies warned Egypt's military leaders right up to the last minute against using force to crush protest sit-ins by supporters of the ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, arguing they could ill afford the political and economic damage.
A violent end to a six-week standoff between Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and the armed forces that toppled Egypt's first freely elected president seemed likely once the new authorities declared last week that foreign mediation had failed.
But the United States and the European Union continued to send coordinated messages to army commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei during the four-day Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday that ended on Sunday, pleading for a negotiated settlement, Western diplomats said.
"We had a political plan that was on the table, that had been accepted by the other side (the Muslim Brotherhood)," said EU envoy Bernardino Leon, who co-led the mediation effort with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
"They could have taken this option. So all that has happened today was unnecessary," Leon told Reuters in a telephone interview. The last plea was conveyed to the Egyptian authorities on Tuesday, hours before the crackdown was unleashed.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was unusually forthright in condemning the imposition of a state of emergency - a throwback to the nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule under U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, toppled by a popular uprising in 2011.
"In the past week, at every occasion ... we and others have urged the government to respect the rights of free assembly and of free expression, and we have also urged all parties to resolve this impasse peacefully and underscored that demonstrators should avoid violence and incitement," Kerry said.
Some of the toughest U.S. messages were delivered personally to Sisi in almost daily telephone calls by Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, diplomats said. Continued...