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Eygpt's Islamists call for national dialogue

Supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi have made their first formal proposal at negotiations with Egypt's military-backed government. Islamists leaders have called for the release of detainees, and an end to the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. 

By Mariam RizkAssociated Press / November 16, 2013

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagy (r.) stands with other senior figures in a cage in a courthouse on the first day of their trial in Cairo November 4. Ousted Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi and 14 other Islamists face charges of inciting violence.




A Muslim Brotherhood-led alliance said Saturday it is ready for a national dialogue to end Egypt's political standoff, for the first time not formally demanding the nation's toppled Islamist president return to power.

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The country's military-backed government, however, signaled no intention to start talks with supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Underscoring that, judges also suggested Saturday that the government disband the Brotherhood's political party.

The call by the alliance of Islamist groups is the first formal proposition by Morsi supporters, who have organized near-daily protests demanding his return to office since he was removed in a popularly supported military coup July 3.

Mohammed Bishr, a leading member of the Brotherhood, told reporters the proposition calls for the release of detainees arrested after the ouster of Morsi. The coalition also asked for the end of security crackdown on Brotherhood members and its allies, as well as the reopening of television channels supporting them.

"We are keen on the country's stability and to get out of the economic crunch," Bishr said.

The coalition said its call is directed to other national political forces, as well as the military and the interim government it supports. The coalition offered a two-week period for them to discuss the proposal.

While the proposal offered Saturday doesn't call for Morsi's return to the presidency, it insists on basing a solution on "constitutional legitimacy." The group didn't elaborate.

A spokesman for the Brotherhood and its political party said one way of restoring constitutional legitimacy is to re-install Morsi briefly, so he can call for new elections or name a new prime minister. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists about the proposal.

It's unclear how the coalition proposal would fit into a military-backed plan already in place for returning Egypt to democracy. That plan calls for a referendum by the end of the year on changes to the Islamist-drafted constitution. That would be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections by summer.

Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa told The Associated Press that Morsi supporters should accept the military-backed plan first as a starting point for talks.

"A call for dialogue has to be based on accepting the accomplishments (since Morsi's ouster) and the current arrangements," Eissa said. "With no acceptance, there is no dialogue."

Meanwhile, a panel of judges told a court in Egypt it should disband the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and seize all its assets, the state news agency MENA reported. A report by the panel said the party should be dissolved as another court order already banned the Brotherhood, the agency said.

The panel offered its opinion as guidance for the court, which is expected to rule on whether to disband the party in February.

MENA also reported that the panel offering amendments to the constitution should have a final draft of its recommendations ready by either Tuesday or Wednesday. Members of the Islamist coalition have criticized the work of the panel.

"The initial stance for the coalition is that we refuse whatever results a non-elected authority comes up with," Yousri Hamad, the vice president of the ultraconservative Salafi party, told the AP.

Magdy Salem, vice president of the Islamist Party, the political arm of the former militant group Islamic Jihad, said the coalition wants the solution based on the 2012 Islamist-drafted constitution.

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