After being shunned for decades, the Muslim Brotherhood appears set to acquire official legitimacy in Egypt with its representatives on Sunday holding talks with the government on defining the ground rules for a political transition, which has become necessary in the wake of a pro-democracy revolt.
Ahead of talks with Vice-President Omar Suleiman, who has emerged as the face of the Mubarak government in its interaction with the opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood signalled that Sunday's talks could be exploratory. “We decided to take part in a round of negotiations in order to test the officials' seriousness about people's demands and their readiness to respond,” the group's Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, said in a statement.
Nevertheless, the invitation for talks and its acceptance appear part of a larger regional shift in policy towards the organisation, which has well-organised branches in many countries in West Asia, including oil-rich Gulf countries. On Thursday, Jordan's King Abdullah also held talks with Muslim Brotherhood representatives — a step the Jordanian Hashemite monarch has avoided for nearly a decade.
In Cairo, in the talks with Mr. Suleiman, Muslim Brotherhood representatives joined others from secular opposition parties, as well as independent legal experts and a business tycoon Naguib Sawiris. The dialogue apparently ended on a positive note, with the Egyptian government claiming that both sides had agreed to identify specific steps to be adopted to enable detailed talks to commence.
A statement after the talks signalled that at least formally, President Hosni Mubarak would not leave, despite his departure from office being a core unifying demand among the pro-democracy demonstrators. Muslim Brotherhood representative Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh, instead of focusing on the President's exit, said Mr. Mubarak must issue decrees “to change Articles 76, 77, dissolve parliament, release all political detainees, end emergency status.”
“Until then, the youth will remain on the streets and at the same time discussions will continue,” he said. Mr. Fotouh was referring to constitutional provisions that allow Mr. Mubarak's party to manipulate polls to choose a President, who could then run for unlimited terms.
While a convoluted dialogue appears to have begun, at the Tahrir (Liberation) Square, plans were afoot to mount a new cycle of protests to maintain pressure on the government.