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Once-strong Islamist groups seek truce with Egyptian army

Published August 26, 2013 7:22 pm

Crackdown • Leadership of the pro-Morsi opposition is imprisoned or on the run.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cairo • Two former militant groups offered to call off street protests if the government agrees to ease its pressure on Islamists, a move that underscores how a onetime strong Islamist movement is now bowing to an unprecedented crackdown by security authorities.

The proposal comes after the military rounded up hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and other Islamists in the wake of the country's worst bout of violence, which followed the Aug. 14 clearing of two sprawling sit-in camps housing protesters calling for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader.

Trial opened for the Brotherhood's supreme leader Mohammed Badie and two other senior officials on Sunday on charges of inciting the murder of anti-Morsi protesters on June 30, the anniversary of his inauguration when millions took to the street to call on him to step down. The first day of their trial coincided with the retrial of ex-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011.

Critics say the truce proposal reflects cracks within the Islamist alliance led by the Brotherhood, with much of its leadership either imprisoned or on the run.

"They want to lift pressure on their groups and jump off the Muslim Brotherhood boat that is sinking right now," said veteran journalist and analyst Makram Mohammed Ahmed. "Everyone is searching for a way out, but this is too late."

Morsi supporters previously have insisted on the reversal of three moves by the military: Morsi's return to power, the lifting of the suspension of Islamist-drafted constitution and the restoration of the only legislative council under Morsi, as three preconditions to talks.

But Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed Abu Samra told The Associated Press that the proposed truce has no "red lines."

"We are paving the way for talks," Abu Samra said by telephone. "We can't hold talks while we are at the points of swords in the midst of killings and crackdowns." He said the groups were "extending their hands" to avoid a bloodier confrontation with the military, which he accuses of "defaming" the Brotherhood in the media and mosques.

Asked about Morsi's return to power, he said, "Blood is more treasured than seats of power ... we are no longer upholding return of the constitutional legitimacy."

Top Brotherhood negotiator Amr Darrag also said his group is open to talks but needs "confidence-building measures," such as an investigation into the killings of hundreds of Morsi supporters during the past month. But, he added, "The other side didn't show a single gesture or any sign that it is ready for dialogue. It only talks about it."

The interim president's office could not immediately be reached for comment. But on Saturday, Egypt's Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi told reporters that security measures will not be enough on their own and that Egypt "must go down the political path" to work out a democratic transition through reconciliation.

He ruled out talks with anyone who had committed acts of violence.

Members of the Brotherhood lashed out after Morsi's July 3 ouster in a military coup, which came as millions of Egyptians called on him to step down because of his alleged abuse of power.

The current bout of violence was set off when security forces backed by snipers and armored vehicles broke up two sprawling pro-Morsi protest camps on Aug. 14. More than 1,000 people, most Morsi supporters, were killed in the raids and other violence over the next several days. Morsi's supporters retaliated by attacking dozens of police stations, torching churches and government buildings.

Authorities declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in Cairo and several other areas to try to quell the violence.

The crackdown continued Monday, as the state news agency announced the arrest of former youth minister and senior Brotherhood member Osama Yassin. Several of the group's leaders are still on the run. The Brotherhood has lost much public support and is now largely resented by the general population. Its offices and Brotherhood-owned businesses have been attacked, while Egypt's media — almost uniformly against it since the closure of Islamist TV stations — describes the group as "terrorist."