Middle East

Egypt authorities delay Morsi protest camps crackdown

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Media captionThe BBC's Azza Moheiddin in Cairo says that as yet there is no sign of police activity at the camps

The Egyptian authorities have postponed their plans to disperse two sit-ins in Cairo by supporters of the country's ousted president, officials say.

A security official in the capital told BBC Arabic the authorities had hoped the announcement to disperse them would encourage protesters to leave.

But this has not happened and the number of people at the sites is increasing.

A judge has extended ousted President Mohammed Morsi's detention by 15 days.

Mr Morsi, who was overthrown by the military on 3 July and has been held largely incommunicado since, was placed in detention on 26 July over his links with the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, which rules neighbouring Gaza.

He is being held over allegations of plotting attacks on jails and jailbreaks in the 2011 uprising with Hamas, when Islamist and other political inmates escaped during a revolt against toppled leader Hosni Mubarak.

In Cairo, there had been no sign of the expected police activity at the camps outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the east of the capital and at Nahda Square to the west.

The Muslim Brotherhood, to which ousted Mr Morsi belongs, has warned of bloodshed if they are forcibly dispersed.

More than 250 people, most of them supporters of Mr Morsi - Egypt's first democratically elected leader - have already been killed in clashes since the military deposed him on 3 July after mass protests demanding his resignation.

'Court order'

On Sunday night, a source from the interior ministry told the BBC an operation to disperse the two protest camps would begin shortly before dawn on Monday, and was likely to be a "gradual" process.

But as the sun rose above the capital, there were no signs of any movement from security forces personnel.

BBC correspondent James Reynolds, who was close to the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque as dawn broke, said no activity had been seen from the security forces.

The camp is surrounded by military sites, and sits on what would normally be a busy dual carriageway.

It was thought security forces would begin by surrounding both areas, in order to restrict access and stop anyone entering. Shipments of food and water could also have been cut off.

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Media captionNabil Fahmy: "The stand-off cannot continue endlessly"

After that, they would step up the use of non-lethal tactics, including tear gas and water cannon, ministry officials told the New York Times.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said the sit-ins could not continue "endlessly".

He told the BBC on Monday: "This is a parallel track process, and ultimately it has to be resolved very soon, either by dialogue or the rule of law."

For three weeks, the authorities had been trying to seek an agreement through dialogue, he said.

"If the police force take their procedures, they will do that in accordance with the law by court order and in accordance to the basic norms on which these things are done."

Protesters have piled sandbags and big rocks around the sit-in, while men wearing motorcycle helmets and carrying sticks have been deployed in anticipation of a raid.

There were elements in the interim government that did not want a violent end to the stand-off, our correspondent said.

Street vendors say they have sold hundreds of gas masks.

The authorities have repeatedly indicated they would wait for the Eid al-Fitr holiday to end on 11 August before moving in, and that the operation could take some days.

The Muslim Brotherhood has put out its own state of alert, and appears to be asking its followers to stage fresh sit-ins at other main squares in Cairo, the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Cairo says.

"We want to send a message to the coup leaders: the Egyptian people insist on continuing their revolution... And the people will insist on turning out in all squares," senior Muslim Brotherhood official Farid Ismail said.

Image caption Protesters have piled sandbags and big rocks around the sit-ins

On Sunday, defiant Morsi supporters called for more street protests.

"Sisi is a traitor, Sisi is a killer," shouted women who took part in a march through central Cairo, referring to the head of the armed forces, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Over the weekend, the grand imam of al-Azhar, Egypt's top Islamic institution, invited prominent figures to join a meeting on national reconciliation on Monday and discuss his "compromise formula".

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) told the BBC that it was ready for "any kind of dialogue with any intermediary", but questioned Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib's impartiality.

The grand imam supported the military intervention to remove Mr Morsi.

Last week, Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the failure of mediation efforts by international diplomats.

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