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Canada closes Cairo embassy as Egypt gripped by protests

Canada has shuttered its embassy in Cairo, taking no chances with the political standoff and mass protests that have left Ottawa wondering where Egypt is headed.

The Conservative government, which was leery of the Arab Spring movement two years ago, is again watching the waves of protesters in Cairo streets with a wary eye.

The Canadian embassy in Cairo, in a central area close to protests in Tahrir Square, was closed at noon Tuesday as a security precaution, said Rick Roth, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. No Canadian diplomats had suffered harm, but the embassy will stay closed indefinitely as officials monitor developments, he said.

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Ottawa's political position remains cautious, too. On Sunday, Mr. Baird called for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to "foster more meaningful political participation" with the opposition, and warned of "dangerous divisions" in Egyptian society. But Ottawa does not want to see an elected president overthrown – even if the federal government has never been enthusiastic about Mr. Morsi, the candidate backed by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

"We call on all parties to remain calm and participate in the political process," Mr. Roth said in an email Tuesday.

The Canadian policy is closely aligned with that of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has urged Mr. Morsi to deal with opponents, but who has also taken pains to note that the U.S. does not support any particular group inside Egypt. Canadian officials have been in contact with U.S. counterparts as they seek to determine how Egypt will handle this conflict.

But Canada has virtually no pull in Egypt. The government's cool reaction to the Arab Spring protests was poorly received in Cairo. While several other Western governments offered aid programs, Canada declined. Relations with Mr. Morsi's government have remained distant, at best.

However, the federal government has in recent months steered clear of delving too deeply into Egyptian politics, declining, for example, to take sides over a constitutional referendum in December that also sparked protests – and is reluctant to embrace a street movement aimed at pushing an elected president from power.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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