Opposition wants more than just talk

Egyptian Coptic Christians and Muslims raise a cross on the 13th day of protests in Tahrir Square in central Cairo calling for the end to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Opposition groups including the banned Muslim Brotherhood held talks with the government yesterday to resolve Egypt’s political crisis, but said their core demand for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak was not met.

Demonstrators in central Tahrir Square, focal point of an uprising that has rocked the Arab world and alarmed Western powers, said they would intensify their 12-day battle to oust the president who has vowed to stay on until September.

The government and the armed forces meanwhile tried to get the nation back to work on Sunday, the first day for banks to open after a week-long closure due to unrest in which up to 300 people may have been killed.

As the talks took place, armored personnel carriers stood guard at Cairo intersections where soldiers had erected sandbag barriers. Buses dropped employees off at large state banks.

The government’s willingness to talk to the Brotherhood was testimony to the ground that protesters have gained since the protests first swept the nation on Jan. 25.

Before then, members of the Brotherhood — by far the best-organized opposition group — were regularly rounded up and jailed. The demonstrators around Tahrir Square, largely young and secular, lack their clear organization and leadership.

Tide turns in favor of Brotherhood

The first time Essam el-Erian went to jail, he was 27. Last Sunday, he left prison for the eighth time at the age of 57.

The medical doctor’s crime for each incarceration was belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most influential and best-organized Islamist opposition movement and long-feared by President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the United States.

Egypt’s courts have repeatedly rebuffed the Brotherhood’s requests for recognition as a party on the grounds that the constitution bans parties based on religion.

Now the world could not look more different to the past three decades when Brotherhood members were repressed, arrested, tried in military courts and shunned by the Egyptian government.

After the last tumultuous days of popular revolt against Mubarak, it is now the government that is seeking out the Muslim Brotherhood to discuss Egypt’s future.

The once-outlawed group is finally well-placed to play a prominent role as Mubarak’s government struggles to survive after 30 years in power.

“I’ve been in and out since 1981,” said Erian, a leading figure in the Brotherhood. “I have seen all forms of torture. I have been suspended by ropes, beaten, electrocuted and left outside in the cold for hours.

“All this only increased my resolve,” said Erian. “The Mubarak regime exists to monopolize not only power but wealth.”

His group has been active in the uprising. But decades of repression have taught the Brotherhood to take a backseat and it is anxious to maintain the impression that the Islamists are one part of the wider protest movement.

“We’re not seeking power, but our participation is a duty under a democratic and independent process. Our goal is to make sure the identity of society is Islamic,” Erian said.

“It is the right of everybody to compete and if people like us then where is the problem? We have sacrificed a lot. … It is our right to win a majority as in any country, like Turkey.”

ElBaradei slams talks

Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei slammed fledgling negotiations on Egypt’s future yesterday and said he was not invited.

The Nobel Peace laureate said weekend talks with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman were managed by the same people who had ruled the country for 30 years and lack credibility. He said the negotiations were not a step toward the change protesters have demanded in 12 days of demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.


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