6 Feb 2011

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in talks with government

What happened in Egypt today has been unimaginable for years: the banned Muslim Brotherhood entered into formal talks with the government to find a way out of the country’s political crisis.

In a press conference in Cairo, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohammed Morsi said: “The dialogue is still going on and today it did not lead to anything clear and tangible.

“The demands are still the same and ther rights are still the same. They did not comply with most of the demands and they accepted some minor things.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, former atomic weapons inspector and now an opposition figure in Egypt, criticised today’s talks. “The process is opaque,” he said. “Nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage,” he told the NBC channel.

Ahead of tdoay’s talks, a Muslim Brotherhood spokeman said: “We have decided to engage in a round of dialogue to ascertain the seriousness of officials towards the demands of the people and their willingness to respond to them.”

Yesterday key members of the ruling National Democratic Party resigned in an effort to placate anti-government factions, although protesters dismissed the changes as “cosmetic”.

The Muslim Brotherhood is banned as a political party in Egypt, but it is the country’s largest political movement. It secured one-fifth of the seats in the 2005 elections, with members standing as “independent” candidates.

Maha Azzam, associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank, told Channel 4 News last week there was no division at present between the Brotherhood and other opponents of the Mubarak regime.

“There isn’t a fissure between the aims of the different political groupings, despite ideological differences,” she said. “There is a coalescing of interests, and the Muslim Brotherhood have decided they want to be able to participate one day in free and fair elections.”

Muslim Brotherhood - trying to look unthreatening.
"Even if it’s our right to have a presidential candidate, we have announced that we will not have one in the coming period,” said Mohammed el Beltaghy, one of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders I met on Tahrir Square today. “We are looking for a democratic country based on social justice. We concur with all our partners that we shall respect international agreements."

Israeli politicians are fond of saying that the west should support them because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. But any democratic system in Egypt will have to accommodate the Muslim Brotherhood, so the USA and Israel may now find they have to work with those their old friend Hosni Mubarak has suppressed for so long.

Read Lindsey Hilsum's blog: US and Israel may have to work with Egypt's Brotherhood

Mohammed ElBaradei had earlier expressed his disappointment at the prospect of President Hosni Mubarak remaining in power to oversee the process of political change before he is due to stand down in September.

That Mubarak should stay and lead the process of change would be very, very disappointing. Mohamed ElBaradei

“That Mubarak should stay and lead the process of change, and that the process of change should essentially be led by his closest military adviser… would be very, very disappointing,” Mr ElBaradei said.

The Egyptian government is trying to return the country to a semblance of normality today after 13 successive days of political protest. Banks in Cairo opened today for the first time in a week.

“We want people to go back to work and to get paid, and life to get back to normal,” army commander Hassan al-Roweni said.

Who Knows Who: Egypt in turmoil
We profile the main players in the Egyptian crisis, from Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman to the Muslim Brotherhood, and look back at former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's connections with Egypt -

- Egypt on the brik: Mubarak to the Brotherhood
- Omar Suleiman: Egypt's vice-presidential spook
- Kissinger, Sadat and the Egypt connection