Germany urged Egypt to avoid “the appearance of selective justice” on Thursday amid a crackdown on deposed President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which remained defiantly dug in at a protest camp the police have orders to remove.
There was no word on when the authorities would move against the vigil maintained by the Brotherhood since the army ousted Morsi on July 3 following mass protests. A Cabinet statement on Wednesday appeared to signal imminent action.
In the month since Morsi's fall, police have rounded up many Brotherhood leaders, mostly on charges of inciting violence.
Morsi, who has been in army detention since his overthrow, also faces a judicial inquiry into accusations that include murder and conspiring with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
The arrests, along with street violence that has killed more than 100 Morsi supporters, have fuelled global concern that the army-backed government plans to crush the Brotherhood even if it says it wants to involve the Islamists in a new transition plan.
“All appearance of selective justice must be avoided,” said Westerwelle, speaking alongside his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmy.
Fahmy said: “There is no justice of vengeance and no selective justice. There is law and it applies to everyone.”
The authorities brought formal charges on Wednesday against the Brotherhood's three top leaders, two of whom are in custody.
The government has been buoyed by huge pro-army rallies on Friday in response to a call by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for Egyptians to give him a “mandate” to crack down on “violence and terrorism” - a reference to the Brotherhood.
"Ready to die”
With the Brotherhood camped out in the streets, Egypt is more polarized than at any time since veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011, starting off a political transition fraught with unrest that has hammered the economy.
The government's new transition plan envisions parliamentary elections in about six months, to be followed by a presidential vote. The Brotherhood says the army has mounted a coup against a legitimate elected leader and want nothing to do with the plan.
With no sign of a negotiated end to weeks of confrontation, the interim cabinet said on Wednesday that two Cairo vigils by Morsi supporters posed a threat to national security, citing “terrorism” and traffic disruption.
It ordered the Interior Ministry to take steps to “address these dangers and put an end to them,” but gave no time-frame.
“We are ready. We are ready to die for legitimacy. An attack can happen at any moment,” said Mohamed Saqr, a Brotherhood activist guarding one of the entrances to the sprawling encampment centered around a mosque in northeast Cairo.
Wednesday's announcement appeared to undermine efforts by the European Union to negotiate a peaceful settlement.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton spent two days in Cairo this week, becoming the first outsider to see Morsi when she was flown after dark by military helicopter to his secret place of confinement.
An EU envoy in Cairo to pursue the mediation effort visited the main sit-in in northeast Cairo late on Wednesday.
Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad posted a photo on Twitter of Bernadino Leon, the envoy, at the sit-in's media center. “This military coup is not accepted by a large segment of society,” he said. “I think he [Leon] got the message.”
“Recipe for bloodshed”
Thousands of Brotherhood supporters are camped out behind sandbag fortifications at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in. The entrances are guarded by volunteers with sticks, shields and makeshift body armor.
The interim government says the protesters are using guns.
The Brotherhood accuses security forces of whipping up trouble to justify a crackdown and has vowed to resist any attempt by the security forces to disperse the camps.
Such forcible action could set off more bloodletting after security forces shot dead 80 Brotherhood followers on Saturday and plunged the most populous Arab nation deeper into turmoil. The Brotherhood has called for a “million-man march” on Friday.
Human rights group Amnesty International called the cabinet decision to clear the camps “a recipe for further bloodshed” and a “seal of approval to further abuse.”
Almost 300 people have been killed in violence since Morsi's ouster, inspiring fears in the West of a wider conflagration in Egypt, which straddles the Suez Canal and whose 1979 peace treaty with Israel is central to U.S. policy in the Middle East.
The United States, which supports the Egyptian military with $1.3 billion a year in aid, urged security forces in its longtime ally to respect the right to peaceful assembly. Two senior Republican senators are due to travel to Cairo next week.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday the United States would proceed with a major military exercise called Bright Star in Egypt in mid-September. “We're planning on going ahead with it,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.
Hagel has been in regular contact with Sisi since the military unseated Morsi. But U.S. ties with Egypt's armed forces have shown signs of strain, notably when President Barack Obama decided last week to halt delivery of four F-16 fighter jets.