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Egyptian VP Holds Unprecedented Talks with Muslim Brotherhood


A general view of Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, center back, meeting with leaders of Egyptian parties and the Muslim brotherhood leadership in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011

A general view of Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, center back, meeting with leaders of Egyptian parties and the Muslim brotherhood leadership in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011

The talks were the first known discussion in years between the Egyptian government and the banned Muslim Brotherhood

The Egyptian government on Sunday offered a package of concessions after an unprecedented meeting with the officially banned Muslim Brotherhood as well as other opposition figures.

However, the opposition is divided over how to bring about an end to President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule. Despite the talks, protesters rallied for a 13th day in Cairo and other cities.

The newly appointed Egyptian vice president, Omar Suleiman, met with representatives of some opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially banned in Egypt.

After the talks, the government said the participants had agreed on a package of concessions that include freedom of the press, the release of detained protesters and the eventual lifting of emergency laws.

But the opposition is divided. George Ishaq of the Kefaya movement, which is boycotting the talks, says any government concession is a nonstarter as long as President Hosni Mubarak remains in power. "We (will) never open our mind or make negotiations before Mubarak leaves. We insist about that. After that, we can open doors to negotiations," he said.

Still, the talks were a milestone because it is the first time Mr. Mubarak's regime openly met with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood.

One protester on Tahrir Square said he worries the group's ultimate aim is to turn Egypt into an Islamic state. "I'm Muslim, but I do not like Iran, like Hezbollah or something like that," he said.

Key Players in Egypt's Crisis

  • President Hosni Mubarak: The 82-year-old has ruled Egypt for 30 years as leader of the National Democratic Party. Egypt's longest-serving president came to power after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.
  • Mohamed ElBaradei: The Nobel Peace laureate and former Egyptian diplomat has gained international attention as a vocal critic of Mr. Mubarak and his government. Until recently he headed the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, and he has lived outside Egypt for years. ElBaradei founded the nonpartisan movement National Association for Change, and has offered to lead a transitional administration in Egypt if Mr. Mubarak steps down.
  • Vice President Omar Suleiman: The new Egyptian vice president has served as head of intelligence and is a close ally of President Mubarak. He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism.
  • Ayman Nour: The political dissident founded the Al Ghad or "tomorrow" party. Nour ran against Mr. Mubarak in the 2005 election and was later jailed on corruption charges. The government released him in 2009 under pressure from the United States and other members of the international community.
  • Muslim Brotherhood: The Islamic fundamentalist organization is outlawed in Egypt, but remains the largest opposition group. Its members previously held 20 percent of the seats in parliament, but lost them after a disputed election in late 2010. The group leads a peaceful political and social movement aimed at forming an Islamic state.

Although the Muslim Brotherhood is banned, its members have run as independents in elections. In 2005, they captured around 20 percent of the vote.

But the group now is deliberately taking a back seat in the protests. A spokesman has credited young Egyptians with starting the uprising. And several days ago, the Brotherhood said it will not field a candidate in the next presidential election.

Fahmy Howeidy is a columnist for the daily newspaper, Shorouk. "What else can they do? They issued a statement, they participated in the last Parliament, they did not talk about Sharia or even an Islamic state, stuff like that, but ((talked about)) defending the people's demands. And they are still doing that," he said.

At Tahrir Square, tens-of-thousands of protesters rallied for a 13th day. Calling this the "Day of Martyrs," Muslims and Coptic Christians offered prayers for the hundreds of pro-democracy activists killed since their uprising began. And one young, just married couple showed up in in their wedding attire.

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