U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns traveled to Egypt on Friday following weeks of growing violence and unrest between the country’s military forces and supporters of deposed President Mohammad Morsi.
Sit-ins and protests led by the Morsi-backed Muslim Brotherhood continue to rage both in Cairo and throughout the country, sparking waves of deadly clashes between demonstrators and police.
“All eyes are on whether or not the military and the police are going to try to break up these protests, that number in the thousands,” Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News foreign correspondent, said Friday from Cairo.
The Egyptian military seized power last month from Morsi after massive demonstrations and days of unrest over his Islamist regime. Morsi became the country’s first democratically-elected president last year after the country overthrew Hosni Mubarak, whose dictatorship reigned over Egypt for decades.
Burns’ visit to Cairo follows on the heels of intense negotiations led by the European Union this week to bring together Egypt’s interim government and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Catherine Ashton, foreign policy chief of the EU, was the first leader to meet with the deposed president after she was taken to an undisclosed location to visit him this week.
In the coming days, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham will also visit the country on the request of President Obama, a sign of international pressure and efforts to try and bring both sides to negotiation.
“In the absence of doing so, the fear is that we could see the type of bloodshed and violence that has plagued Egypt in the last months,” Mohyeldin said.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing last week on the crisis in Egypt. Senators focused on whether the mass uprising that removed Morsi from power is classified as a “coup”–a distinction that would legally forbid the United States from contributing its $1.5 billion annual aid package, the vast majority of which goes to the military.
But Secretary of State John Kerry said the Egyptian army did not take over when it ousted Morsi, but instead was “restoring democracy.”
“The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people,” he told Pakistani TV on Thursday. “All of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence.”