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Political deadlock in Egypt continues

Despite all diplomatic efforts, the situation in Egypt remains tense. Morsi supporters and military forces seem to be as hostile as ever toward each other. The legitimacy of the interim government is still questioned.

There's no peace in sight for Egypt. A month after the military overthrew the elected president Mohammed Morsi, the country is still socially and politically divided. It looks unlikely that Morsi supporters and those who favor the current interim government are heading for agreement any time soon.

While the streets were filled with Morsi's opponents in the weeks before he was deposed, the large demonstrations in recent weeks have been organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi's party. They demand the immediate return of their president.

In Cairo, protesters have built up two large camps. The Muslim Brotherhood has built barricades of bricks and sandbags around them and strictly guards the entrance. Journalists report bad sanitary conditions; there are heaps of trash all around the camps. Many living in the vicinity of the shelters are reportedly annoyed.

Camps allowed to remain - so far

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi sit near tents in their sit-in area around Raba' al-Adawya mosque, east of Cairo, August 3, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

Egypt's new government wants to get rid of the pro-Morsi protest camps

Despite an announcement to clear them out, the military hasn't disposed of the camps. But over the last few days, there were many clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Egyptian security forces. Since Morsi was overthrown, around 250 people were killed and thousands injured, according to media reports. Should the army attempt to clear out the camps violently, more bloodshed could ensue.

Meanwhile, diplomats from the European Union and the United States are encouraging both sides to sit down for dialogue. After EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the most recent politician to visit Egypt was US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

"The diplomatic efforts have at least caused a halt to the plans to evacuate the Muslim Brotherhood's camps and a refrain from the violence here until now," Günther Meyer from the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Mainz says to DW.

Frustrations with the US

Portrait Günther Meyer. (Photo: private)

Meyer: Diplomatic efforts have prevented more intense violence

Meyer criticizes what he calls inconsistency in the messages the US government has sent in the last few weeks: "The US embassy in Egypt had tried to put a damper on the protest before Morsi was overthrown. After the coup, the US demanded Morsi had to be released." But now, Meyer says, "the Americans have done a complete 180." On the weekend, John Kerry said that by overthrowing Morsi, the army has "restored democracy."

Tunisian political scientist Hamadi El-Aouni, who teaches at the Free University of Berlin, has blunter words for third parties getting involved with the situation in Egypt, saying, "The Egyptians should just be left alone right now. Those who think they need to give advice to the Egyptians need to back off."

El-Aouni is not just talking about Western governments, but also about "the world-wide Muslim Brotherhood movement led by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan."

Erdogan recently criticized Egyptian generals. The Turkish government had presented Morsi's election as proof of the Islamic-conservative movement's capacity to foster democracy. The fact that Morsi failed put a dent in this picture.

A legitimate coup?

Portrait Hamadi El-Aouni. (Photo: private)

El-Aouni: Outside interference doesn't help Egypt

Although Erdogan probably has his own interests at heart, there could be merit to his criticism. After all, Morsi was a democratically elected president after years of the Mubarak dictatorship. El-Aouni argues that democracy does not just mean election results, though, explaining, "It means security for the people, freedom and wealth. And the Muslim Brotherhood hasn't attempted to achieve any of these goals."

Günther Meyer also attributes some sort of legitimacy to the coup against Morsi. "The Muslim Brotherhood derived its legitimacy from a popular election," Meyer says. "But they lost this legitimacy by how they acted on the political field." He adds that it's clear the military picked up on the people's mood and overthrew the president with the majority of the people behind them.

Since the beginning of May, the Egyptian protest movement says it had collected more than 22 million signatures asking Morsi to step down. The movement's goal was to collect more signatures than the 13.2 million votes the president had received when he was elected

Cautious optimism for Egypt's future

Ultimately, El-Aouni has a positive outlook on the country's prospects into the future. "In three to six months, the Egyptians won't have the hardest part behind them, but they'll have stabilized the situation," he says. "Their foundation is the Egyptian justice system, which is clean, transparent, works well and is the main support factor during this time."

Despite that foundation, Meyer cautions against hoping for a quick resolution to the country's political instability. "It would be naive to assume that overthrowing an authoritarian regime is immediately followed by democracy," the political scientist says. "In the Western world, we have sometimes taken centuries to turn authoritarian rule into the kind of democracy practiced in Germany today."

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