|Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has cast doubt on the government’s willingness to follow through on promised reforms, following talks with authorities aimed at ending the country’s political crisis.
One of the group’s leaders told Al Jazeera that the Muslim Brotherhood does not trust the government to make its proposed changes – a development that came as pro-democracy rallies continued across the country on Sunday – the 13th day of protests in Egypt.
Tens of thousands of protesters observed a “day of the martyrs” in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the focal point of the protests – calling for an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Al Jazeera correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was at the square, was arrested by the military on Sunday afternoon, prompting calls from the channel and international media-rights groups for his release. He was released nine hours later.
The army fired tracer rounds into the air at a cordon they had set up near the Egyptian Museum, an Al Jazeera correspondent in the square reported late on Sunday evening. An army tank also moved towards the 6th of October bridge, where protesters often gather, he said.
Both Muslims and Christians held prayers at the square for the victims of the uprising.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters also gathered in the cities of Alexandria and Mansoura, while thousands more protested in Mahalla. In other parts of the country, banks and shops began to reopen as normal life appeared to be resuming.
Egyptian state television said Omar Suleiman, the country’s newly appointed vice-president, began meetings with prominent independent and mainstream opposition figures on Saturday to go through the options, which centre on how to ensure free and fair presidential elections while sticking to the constitution.
The Egyptian president, in a televised address on Tuesday, said he would not seek re-election in September but refused to step down immediately, saying he feared “chaos”.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) played down Sunday’s meeting with Suleiman, saying that it was not prepared to drop its central demand of calling for Mubarak to resign as president.
“We cannot call it talks or negotiations. The Muslim Brotherhood went with a key condition that cannot be abandoned … that he [Mubarak] needs to step down in order to usher in a democratic phase,” Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a member of the MB, told Al Jazeera.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, cautiously welcomed the inclusion of the MB in talks, but said the US would “wait and see” what results the dialogue yields.
The MB, which is formally banned by whose activities are tolerated, was one of several groups taking part in those talks. Other participants included members of secular opposition parties, independent legal experts and business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, attendees said.
A representative of Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition figure, was also in attendance.
ElBaradei, however, told the American television station NBC that he had not been invited to the talks. He criticised the negotiations for being “opaque”, saying that “nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage”.
The MB’s Fotouh described the meeting as testing the waters for what concessions the government was prepared to make.
He said he “did not see any … seriousness so far. They [the government] have failed to take concrete measurement on the ground.
“If they were serious, the parliament would have been dissolved, also a presidential decree ending the emergency law”.
He said that articles 77, 78 and 88 of the constitution should also have been amended by now.
Fotouh was referring to an article of the constitution covering presidential elections, which now effectively puts Mubarak’s governing NDP party in a position to choose the next president, and another that allows the president to run for unlimited presidential terms.
He said the Muslim Brotherhood “does not seek power” and will not be fielding a candidate for president in elections.
He asserted that the organisation was not prepared to step back from its demand for Mubarak’s departure, saying that if it did, the move would be a “betrayal of the martyrs who have died in the these protests”.
According to a statement from Suleiman’s office following Sunday’s talks, the government offered to form a committee to examine proposed constitutional amendments, pursue allegedly corrupt government officials, “liberalise” media and communications and lift the state of emergency in the country when the security situation was deemed to be appropriate.
On Sunday, the Reuters news agency said that cables leaked by the whistleblower website Wikileaks showed that Suleiman has often told US officials that the Muslim Brotherhood “had spawned ’11 different Islamist extremist’ organizations”.
The revelations throw doubt over Suleiman’s ability to act as an honest broker in talks with the opposition, in which the MB is the largest party.
A proposal being promoted by a group of Egyptians calling itself the The Council of Wise Men involves Suleiman assuming presidential powers for an interim period pending elections.
But some opposition figures argue that would mean the next presidential election would be held under the same unfair conditions as in previous years.
They want to first form a new parliament to change the constitution to pave the way for a presidential vote that is democratic.
Issam al-Aryan, a leading Muslim Brotherhood member, said that the organisation would hold a news conference on Sunday evening to announce what was discussed in the meeting with Suleiman.
Both he and Mohammed Mursi, another senior leader, said that the group would be sticking to its demand that Mubarak resign.
An Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo described the news of the MB joining the talks as “highly significant”.
“They are interested in talking about the resignation of president Mubarak,” he said. “They want parliament resolved, they want those responsible for violence of the last few days put on trial … and wanting to be able to peacefully protest.”
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Alexandria – one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strongholds – says many people are surprised by the group’s decision to enter talks.
He said it is a major concession that might be seen as a “weakness” in the sense that the MB did not stick to its stated position against joining negotiations until Mubarak resigns.
Cherif Bassiouni, president of the Egyptian American Society and a former UN human rights expert, said the MB has already proved itself to be a responsible participant in Egypt’s legislative process.
“They participated in the 2005 legislative elections. They elected 88 members to the parliament. So they’ve had a role in the secular parliament,” Bassiouni said.
Contest of wills
The government tried to get people back to work on Sunday, with banks and businesses reopening in the first clear test of how far protesters can keep up the momentum to topple the government.
But the protesters vowed not to back down in their demand for Mubarak to step down.
“They are steadfast and very sure in their aims and refuse to move,” an Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo said.
The leadership of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) resigned en masse on Saturday, according to state television.
Hossam Badrawi was appointed the new secretary-general of the party, replacing Safwat El-Sherif, a Mubarak loyalist, in that post. Badrawi, seen by many as a liberal voice in the NDP, will also replace Gamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak’s son, as head of the party’s policies bureau.
Other new appointees include: Mohamed Ragah Ahmed, Mohamed Ahmed Abd El-Illah, Maged Mahmoud Younes El-Shirbiny, Mohamed Ahmed Abd El-Salam Hebah and Dr Mohamed Mostafa Kamal, according to an NDP press release.
Officials in the US administration welcomed the resignation of Gamal Mubarak, terming it a “positive” move.
But the administration has continued to insist upon an orderly and peaceful transition in Egypt.
Frank Wisner, who has acted as a White House envoy by carrying a message to Mubarak, said on Saturday that Mubarak “must stay in office to steer” a process of gathering “national consensus around the preconditions” for the way forward.
PJ Crowley, the US state department’s spokesman, said, however, that Wisner was speaking as a private citizen, and that his views did not represent those of the US government.
Al Jazeera and agencies
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