Will Egypt's government now strike a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood said it was entering direct talks with the government Sunday. Democracy protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square remain suspicious of any compromise deals that may be promised by Vice President Omar Suleiman.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, slow to join pro-democracy protests and wary of a government that has banned it for 56 years, says it will enter direct talks with President Hosni Mubarak's government. The move is a sharp reversal of course for Egypt's best-organized opposition group, which two days ago insisted it wouldn't negotiate with the government until Mr. Mubarak steps down.Skip to next paragraph
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The decision also bolsters the likelihood of a compromise end to the political impasse. But any deal that leaves major elements of the current government in place will severely disappoint both secular and Islamist protesters who have flooded Cairo's central Tahrir Square in recent days to call for Mubarak's immediate departure.
Many Egyptian activists also say they worry that the Brotherhood's elderly leadership, who have become increasingly inward-looking in the face of government repression, are no match for the old-guard members of Mubarak's regime, who will use them to split the forces pushing for democratic change and avoid meaningful reform.
"This is a bad idea," says Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, a former Brotherhood youth leader who left the group two years ago. "The compromises are going to be too great."
Compromise talks begin
Al Arabiya reported in the early afternoon in Cairo that talks had begun between Vice President Omar Suleiman, Brotherhood representatives, Coptic Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, and a representative of Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian Nobel Prizewinner who has been pushing for democratic reform in Egypt in the past two years. They are presenting themselves as a broad front representing multiple streams in Egyptian society, but ground-level democracy demonstrators are suspicious that a group of elites without true grass-roots support is about to cut a back-room deal.
"The protesters know that if we withdraw before our demands are met, the government will hunt us down and try to crush us," says Khaled Abol Naga, an Egyptian film star who has joined the protests. "There is no trust of anyone from the regime, not just Mubarak."
Vice President Suleiman's key role
Over the weekend, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly supported Vice President Suleiman -- a former general and longtime intelligence chief until Mubarak named him vice president in late January -- as the focal point for efforts to open up Egyptian politics. Mubarak appears to have handed off all responsibility for dealing with the protesters to Suleiman and other members of the military establishment.