Published on 6 Feb 2011 Sections ,

Egypt: historic talks and historic protests

They aren’t giving up on either side of this. Although much of Cairo is going back to work and shops and banks started to open, the protesters defied expectations and again brought huge numbers to their cause.

They aren’t giving up on either side of this. Although much of Cairo is going back to work and shops and banks started to open, the protesters defied expectations and again brought huge numbers to their cause. However even as tens of thousands of people streamed into Tahrir Square to demand Mubarak’s resignation something remarkable was going on – the Vice President Omar Suleiman was holding ground breaking talks with key opposition leaders including the officially banned (but tolerated) Muslim Brotherhood. They have tentatively agreed to continue talking about the transition process. One man excluded from the talks was Mohammed El Baradei and the leaders of the youth movement involved in the protests were also absent, although they now have their own lines of communication apparently opening up with Suleiman.

That the Brotherhood is in the political process now is a big deal – and means the hated emergency powers are in effect gradually being lifted, and they will have to now be recognised as a political force. I spoke to one of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders today and he was scathing about the warnings, especially those from Western leaders, about radical Islamists coming to power. Listen to him and you would think the Muslim Brotherhood was simply intent on democracy. However talk a bit longer and he admits Shariah law is an aspiration, and that the relationship with Hamas and Israel would change fundamentally if the Brotherhood became the majority voice in Egypt.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit says there is now no question of Mubarak stepping down before September’s election and the process of change is underway. He was scathing about David Cameron and Barack Obama’s interventions, especially angry that both had kept demanding transition start “now”, when in this eyes it had already started days before. When I put to him that Western leaders were reacting to the aspirations of the Egyptian people and their complaints of living in fear of a security state he retorted angrily : “Why did they maintain the best of relationship with Egypt? Because that is not true.” And when I ask him if he could survive without American aid he tartly points out the lifespan of the American tanks on Cairo’s streets is forty years. Yet he also admits there have been lots of human rights abuses, and says the protesters have affected change for the better. The contradictions in Cairo are perhaps confusing, but that I suppose is inevitable when change is sudden.

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