CAIRO (AP) — Egypt is taking extreme measures to keep Mohammed Morsi hidden. It says dignitaries are helicoptered to the deposed president’s place of detention after nightfall, flying in patterns aimed at confusing the visitors. The military also has reportedly moved Morsi at least three times.
“Maneuvers have been undertaken during the nighttime helicopter flight so as to disorient (the visitors) in regard to where the location is,” Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, the military spokesman, told The Associated Press Wednesday, following a visit to Morsi Tuesday night by an African Union delegation.
The Egyptian army has kept Morsi in hiding since ousting him in a July 3 coup. But the military-backed interim leadership is under international criticism about Morsi’s continued detention, and by allowing two high-level visits in quick succession it apparently hoped to ease the pressure.
“There are lies going around that he is badly treated, that he is under pressure, or that he is not taking his medication, and these were conveyed to the West,” Ali said. “This step was part of a transparency policy and to refute such allegations. We have nothing to hide.”
He said Morsi’s whereabouts were being kept secret for his own safety because “there are millions of people against him, and moving him is not considered appropriate at the moment.”
It’s also possible, however, that if his place of detention were revealed, it would also attract throngs of Morsi supporters.
He has already been moved at least three times between Defense Ministry facilities in armored vehicles under heavy guard, security officials told the AP, speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the details of Morsi’s case with the media. They said he is currently in a facility outside Cairo, but would not elaborate.
The African Union delegation head, former Mali President Alpha Oumar Konare, offered no clues to Morsi’s location. He told reporters he had a “very frank meeting” with him but gave no details. Egypt’s state news agency said it lasted an hour.
“We had a very good meeting with President Morsi,” Konare said. “Permit me not to talk about it for the time being because probably there will be other meetings.”
The African Union has suspended Egypt’s membership because of the coup.
On Monday Morsi had a two-hour visit from Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat. She said the 61-year-old was well and keeping up with developments through TV and newspapers, but gave no other details. She said she saw the facility holding him, but didn’t know where it was.
The military originally said it was holding Morsi for his own safety. But last week authorities announced he was being detained pending an investigation into allegations that he conspired with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi’s supporters have called his detention illegal.
“A second visit after Baroness Ashton to President Morsi from the African Union. When will his family, which is more deserving, visit him?” tweeted Essam el-Erian, a leading member of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi is married with five children.
Ali, the military spokesman, said there are unlikely to be more visits by foreign dignitaries, now that two delegations have found him to be in good health.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived Wednesday, and his request for a meeting was refused. A delegation of U.S. senators arriving shortly has not asked for one. A two-member delegation from Egyptian human rights groups visited Morsi this weekend, but he refused to meet them, according to local media.
Despite the visits, Egypt’s politics remain deadlocked.
Morsi’s supporters say they will continue their street rallies until Egypt’s first freely elected president is reinstated, while the interim government took a defiant stance Wednesday, declaring a monthlong sit-in by thousands of Morsi supporters is a national security threat, terrorizing residents and threatening state institutions. The government said the sit-ins will be broken up by legal means.
Shortly after the coup, thousands of Morsi supporters converged on a Republican Guard club in Cairo where they believed he was being held. Days later security forces killed more than 50 Morsi supporters near the facility, saying some were armed and tried to break into the building. The Morsi supporters denied it.
One intriguing detail that emerged from the meeting with Ashton was disclosed to the AP by a government official familiar with the talks between Ashton and Morsi. He said Morsi expressed the wish to consult the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leader, Mohammed Badie.
That could mean that Morsi, isolated for a month, needs to hear the Brotherhood’s view on whether he should stand his ground, compromise or relinquish the presidency. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak to the media.