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Egypt protests: Muslim Brotherhood's concessions prompt anger

Egypt protests have sought Mubarak's removal. The Muslim Brotherhood suddenly dropped that demand in talks Sunday, angering participants in Egypt protests and causing an apparent split in the group's ranks.

By Staff writer / February 7, 2011

Mohamed Morsi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, addresses reporters during a press conference in Cairo on Sunday, February 6.

Ann Hermes / The Christian Science Monitor



Three senior leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, all of whom have suffered arbitrary imprisonment and torture at the hands of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, sat shoulder to shoulder at a press conference in what should have been a moment of great triumph.

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Two Brothers had just come from the group's first formal talks ever with a government that has hounded the Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest and best-organized opposition group, for generations. Along with secular democracy activists and reform-minded tycoons, they sought to present a united front for reform to Vice President Omar Suleiman, the former spymaster whose career was largely built on crushing Islamist movements.

But the moment had a hint of anticlimax. The Brotherhood backed off its demand that Mr. Mubarak step down immediately and make other concessions, for apparently little concrete in return. Suddenly, the one clear demand uniting them with the youths in Cairo's Tahrir Square – Mubarak's resignation – was gone.

The Sunday afternoon talks drew outrage in the square, where protesters described the Brothers' concessions as helping the establishment buy time and find a way to preserve one-party rule here beyond September elections, in which Mubarak has promised not to run. They also expressed concern that Mr. Suleiman was leading the reform movement into a trap.

“I don’t know what [senior Brotherhood leader Esam el-] Erian is thinking, I really don’t,” said a secular protest leader, who has spent years trying to bring the Brotherhood into a broader reform camp. “We all know who Suleiman is and what he’s capable of. This is splitting the Brotherhood and could leave all of us isolated and in danger.”

The Brothers, ever-cautious and aware that they bear the brunt of regime repression when they join protests, were slow to participate in the demonstrations that broke out on Jan. 25 and have struggled to craft a united front ever since.

A split Brotherhood?

A sign of the split came soon after Mr. Erian, who has done at least eight stints in jail, and his two colleagues spoke. He declared the current parliament “illegitimate," but said that the Brotherhood will give negotiations a chance to work, particularly regarding Suleiman’s promise of constitutional reform.

“We wanted the president to step down, but for now we accept this arrangement,” said Mohamed Saad El-Katatni, a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council. “It’s safer that the president stays until he makes these amendments to speed things up because of the constitutional powers he holds.”

An influential Brotherhood member of the reform camp then took to Al Jazeera and appeared to contradict the official line.


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