Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Towards negotiations

Initiatives promoting reconciliation between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood are gaining ground, writes Amany Maged

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Since the dismissal of former president Mohamed Morsi and the declaration of the army’s roadmap several initiatives have been tabled in an attempt to end the crisis engulfing the Muslim Brotherhood. Former prime minister Hisham Kandil, former presidential candidate Selim Al-Awwa, current Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaaeddin and Mohamed Kamal Abul-Magd of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya have all been involved. Yet negotiations were either rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood or by the government. Finally, however, Brotherhood official Mohamed Ali Bishr, minister of local development under Morsi, has announced that the Muslim Brotherhood accepts mediation, at least in principle.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official who will be taking part in the negotiations told Al-Ahram Weekly that the group was ready to accept mediators in order to solve the crisis. These mediators should consist of “a group of intellectuals” that will probably include legal expert Tarek Al-Bishri, Nadia Mustafa, a professor of political science, writer and columnist Fahmi Howeidi, and Ayman Al-Sayad, chief editor of Weghat Nazar. The Brotherhood official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the mediating group would be headed by a prominent public figure approved by the government but refrained from citing a name for fear of jeopardising the new initiative.

The source said that the Muslim Brotherhood was keen to engage in dialogue with the military but required guarantees in advance. These guarantees would not include Morsi’s reinstatement in office — “We realise that it is not possible for him to return at present” — but they would include the release of the former president and all other detainees and an end to the police pursuit of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Once those conditions were met the Muslim Brothers would negotiate.

According to the source, if and when the Muslim Brotherhood begins negotiations it will stress that recognition of the roadmap remains a question of personal conviction and oppose any ban on the group, the dissolution of its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the confiscation of Muslim Brotherhood assets. It will also insist on investigations into the killing of protesters during the break-up of the sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda Square, at the Republican Guard Club and during the transfer of Brotherhood detainees to Abu Zaabal prison. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood will demand to be allowed to engage in political activity. “Other points will be announced when the time comes,” the source added.

A second Muslim Brotherhood source suggested what these points might include. One would be the holding of presidential elections before parliamentary elections and the creation of a new government. Another would be to amend controversial articles of the constitution before the parliamentary poll.

As to whether the government will agree to these conditions, the source said: “The government has to agree to negotiate in view of the increase in peaceful demonstrations, the deterioration in the economic and security situation and Western criticisms of the repression of freedoms and especially the law to regulate demonstrations which is expected to be passed soon. In addition, there is confusion surrounding the state of emergency that is due to end in the middle of next month and which requires a popular referendum to be extended according to the constitutional declaration issued by interim President Adli Mansour.”

The source continued: “The government is in an extremely delicate position. But so, too, is the Muslim Brotherhood which is being torn from within by two sides. One — the hawks, or those referred to as the Qutbists — insists on persisting with the demonstrations since the group has nothing more to lose. The other — the reformist trend — is pressing for reconciliation, reassembling the splintered group, undertaking ideological revisions and repairing the relationship between the group and the people.”

Given their current situations, according to the source, both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood “have their backs to the wall”.

“They have to sit down together and talk, even if it is through mediators. Both sides realise that they cannot break the other and that they have to compromise and take steps to meet each other halfway.”

Most of the initiatives so far have not satisfied the Muslim Brotherhood who believe they are in the right and the “coup-wagers” are in the wrong. This applies to the initiative proposed by Abul Magd. Bishr thanked the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya theorist for his efforts to find a solution that would mend the rift but said the conditions were insufficient to ensure the beginning of “a real dialogue that will yield positive results”. According to Bishr, the conditions were such that “the mediator would be biased which would undermine mediating efforts.”

A source closely connected with the National Coalition for Legitimacy noted that Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader Aboud Al-Zomor was negotiating with the Muslim Brotherhood and other coalition leaders in an effort to convince them to drop the demand for the reinstatement of Morsi and the insistence on the “legitimacy” of the 2012 constitution. He argues that this will avert further clashes with the current authorities which is important in light of the growing anger at the Islamist trend on the part of a large segment of public opinion.

According to the source, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya plans to put a new initiative to the two sides next week. The initiative will call for a halt to the police clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, an end to the state of emergency, the release of Brotherhood leaders and a halt to the confiscation of the group’s assets. It may also include proposals to satisfy Brotherhood demands for the return of Morsi. These could include his temporary reinstatement so that he could then delegate his powers, or his reinstatement to enable him to appoint a prime minister agreed upon by political forces who will serve until presidential elections are held. Morsi’s immediate release and immunity from prosecution would also be a condition. The initiative will call for parliamentary elections under complete judicial supervision and international monitoring. The source added that all suggestions would be submitted to the military first.

The source noted that the Construction and Development Party and the Wasat (Centre) Party had refused to take part in last week’s pro-legitimacy demonstrations. Both parties now believe it is necessary to halt the escalation and to engage in dialogue without preconditions or restrictions in order to safeguard the existence of the Islamist trend and ensure that it remains part of the political process rather than being forced underground.

The source reported that Al-Zomor and other Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leaders are currently studying the possibility of abandoning the pro-legitimacy movement and preparing for parliamentary elections. He said that there have been communications on the subject between Al-Zomor and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader Assem Abdel-Meguid, in the course of which Al-Zomor pressed the need for the Islamist organisation to remain politically engaged and to strive to establish a strong presence in the forthcoming parliament. He asked Abdel-Meguid to seriously consider relinquishing the concept of legitimacy, rubric for calls for the reinstatement of Morsi. The source added that Al-Zomor is continuing his efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis so that Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya would not have to foot the bill for the confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling authorities. The implication was that the longer the crisis persists the greater the risk all Islamist parties would be banned.

The Muslim Brotherhood welcomed the initiative proposed by Al-Awwa in late July, before the dispersal of the sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda. Al-Awwa’s initiative included Morsi being reinstated so he might delegate his authorities in full to an interim cabinet agreed upon in the first session of talks. In its first meeting the cabinet would call for parliamentary elections to be held within 60 days. Presidential elections would then be held, in accordance with constitutional provisions, and controversial articles of the 2012 constitution amended. The government rejected this initiative.

The Muslim Brotherhood along with some other political parties, including the Nour Party, also welcomed the initiative of Deputy Prime Minister Bahaaeddin, which was based on the idea of a guarantee to society and public opinion that the government would complete the roadmap without eliminating any political ideology or camp that accepted the rules of the democratic game and rejected violence. The initiative went the way of its predecessors.

Many young Muslim Brothers are unhappy with the intransigence that seems to characterise Brotherhood policy. One youth, who agreed to be identified by his initials, K M B, told the Weekly, “Our ongoing mobilisation against the coup should not lead us to deny a new reality which we need to work with even if we refuse to recognise it. It is one thing to reject the coup, another to deny reality and refuse to search for a new horizon. The party that stands to lose the most from the current situation is the Muslim Brotherhood whose future is at risk as a project and a group that had remained cohesive until now.”

A group of Muslim Brotherhood youth has aired an initiative calling for the restoration of the Muslim Brotherhood and FJP headquarters and negotiations with the army in which the Brotherhood agrees to halt demonstrations, relinquish its call for the reinstatement of Morsi, and seek an understanding on mechanisms for the release of detainees.

International parties have also remained involved in mediating efforts. EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean Bernardino Leon is continuing his visits to Cairo and is reported to be arranging a visit at the end of this month or the beginning of November. The EU official will not be bringing an initiative but, rather, will be searching for a viable formula to exit the crisis.

While Western opinion is sympathetic with the events of 30 June there are reservations with respect to what occurred on 3 July and concern over the 14 August break-up of the pro-Morsi sit-ins. Western capitals are also anxious about the future of Egypt and worry about the seriousness of any intent to complete a real democratic transformation. Such opinions are not informed by sympathy for the Brotherhood but from a belief that Egypt will not stabilise until it achieves a democratic system acceptable to all political players, the young above all.

Many analysts argue previous initiatives failed because both the Muslim Brotherhood and the state felt they had the upper hand. As the former flexed its muscles through demonstrations, it counted on economic deterioration and foreign pressure to force the government’s hand. The state, meanwhile, had the army, Interior Ministry, the media and the bulk of Egyptian public opinion on its side.

Negotiations that have been taking place behind the scenes via mediators will soon move into the open, indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood has begun to come to grips with reality. It also looks like it is prepared to relinquish its insistence on the reinstatement of Morsi, regardless of the impression given by official statements. These are no more than attempts to strengthen the Brotherhood’s hand when negotiations do take place.

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