Senior US official William Burns visits Egypt to break the ice with military

The deputy secretary of state is the first US official to visit Cairo since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi

The first senior US official to visit Egypt since the army toppled the country’s elected president will hold high-level talks on Monday in Cairo, where thousands of supporters of the ousted Islamist leader, Mohamed Morsi, are expected to take to the streets.

Deputy secretary of state William Burns may face awkward questions when he visits Cairo, where portraits of the American ambassador, Anne Patterson, have been overwritten with the words “Go home, witch”. Burns, an Arabic speaker, would not miss the point.

His visit will include talks with the military and comes as Egypt’s interim prime minister finalises his cabinet.

In a statement, the State Department said Burns would “underscore US support for the Egyptian people, an end to all violence, and a transition leading to an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government”.

The US has studiously avoided calling Mursi’s overthrow a coup, because, under US laws dating back to the 1980s, to do so would mean stopping the $1.3bn in military aid it gives Egypt each year.

Morsi’s Musim Brotherhood said it was a coup, but the head of Egypt’s armed forces, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said the military was enforcing the will of the people after huge crowds took to the streets on 30 June calling for Morsi to step down.

In a speech to a hall full of military officers on Sunday, Sisi justified the takeover. He said the president had lost legitimacy because of the mass demonstrations against him.

The general said he tried to avert the need for unilateral action by offering Morsi the option of holding a referendum on his rule, but “the response was total rejection”.

Sisi also insisted the political process remained open to all groups – though the Muslim Brotherhood has shunned dealings with “usurpers”.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad dismissed the speech.

“The guy is either lying or his troops are operating without his knowledge, because the only thing we are seeing from him are arbitrary arrests, confiscation of assets and killing of our protesters,” he said.

What pro- and anti-Morsi camps do agree on is a belief that the United States conspired to help the other side.

It was not clear whether Burns would meet members of the Brotherhood during his visit, which is scheduled to end on Tuesday. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds