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Egyptian opposition cautious after vice-president Suleiman opens talks

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  • Egyptian opposition cautious after vice-president Suleiman opens talks

    Government offers concessions to groups including Muslim Brotherhood but critics say proposals do not go far enough

    The Egyptian government has offered a series of concessions at the first talks with opposition groups, including the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, in an attempt to end the mass pro-democracy protests across the country.

    But opposition leaders said that Egypt's vice-president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, did not go far enough in his proposals for greater political freedom and pledge of free elections.

    In Cairo, demonstrators again packed Tahrir Square to demand President Hosni Mubarak's immediate removal from office as a prerequisite for any deal, undermining the government's attempts to get people back to work because of the huge economic losses caused by the crisis.

    While the mood was relaxed in the square for much of the day, with even a wedding taking place, the army fired warning shots after dark in an apparent confrontation with some protesters. There are concerns that demands by the military to remove barricades blocking roads are a move towards breaking up the demonstration.

    A government statement said that Suleiman, who is apparently playing an increasingly powerful role, agreed to a number of measures including the formation of a committee of political and judicial figures to oversee changes to the constitution which would scrap provisions that limit the ability of the opposition to run for the presidency.

    The government said it will also immediately release "prisoners of conscience of all persuasions" and end legal restrictions on the press. However, it gave only a partial commitment to lift the state of emergency, which gives the president considerable powers and has been used to jail opponents, saying that it will be rescinded "based on the security situation and an end to the threats to the security of society".

    The meeting was greeted with scepticism by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, who is now a prominent opposition voice.

    "The process is opaque. Nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage. It's managed by Vice-President Suleiman. It is all managed by the military and that is part of the problem," he said on NBC.

    Another member of ElBaradei's group, the National Association for Change, who attended the talks with Suleiman, said they had been "positive" but did not go far enough.

    "We demanded a full democratic transformation and not partial reforms," said Mustafa Naggar. "But Suleiman responded: 'Democracy comes in stages and I am keen that there is a peaceful transitional period and civilian rule.'"

    Suleiman held separate talks with Muslim Brotherhood, currently banned by the government. The Islamist organisation said it did not regard the meeting as negotiations but as an opportunity to hear the government's position. A Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, said it was not pleased with the results because Suleiman had failed to respond to the central demand that Mubarak resign. He also said that if the government was serious about political reform it should immediately dissolve parliament, which was elected in a tainted ballot from which the Muslim Brotherhood was banned. The group said it would meet today to decide whether to continue the talks.

    Yesterday, the Egyptian prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, said that Mubarak would not resign before elections in September.

    Washington has backed the talks, with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, "cautiously welcoming" the meeting between Suleiman and the Muslim Brotherhood. But many pro-democracy activists are suspicious of US involvement, fearing that Washington, which backed Mubarak for 30 years as a force for stability in the Middle East, is seeking to perpetuate that policy with its support for Suleiman's oversight of the political transition.

    That view was reinforced by remarks over the weekend by the US special envoy, Frank Wisner, who argued that Mubarak should stay in power through the transition to democracy. The fond tone of his comments, claiming that Mubarak "has given 60 years of his life to the service of his country" and therefore deserved a chance to shape its future, was seen as particularly damaging.

    The US state department insisted the remarks, made to an international security conference in Munich, represented the personal opinion of the 72-year-old retired diplomat. But European officials said they seemed to reflect a real shift in Washington's policy towards acceptance that the transition would be managed by the Egyptian government according to a timetable followed by Suleiman. Egyptian banks opened for the first time in a week yesterday, drawing long lines of people desperately short of cash for food and other essentials. But despite the government's appeal for a return to normality, many shops and factories remained closed, and a plan to open the stock exchange today was called off. The government estimates that the crisis has cost the country more than $3bn, a large part of it because more than 1m tourists have left.
    Egyptian opposition cautious after vice-president Suleiman opens talks | World news | The Guardian

    I wanted to open this thread because of the increasing mention of Omar Suleiman and his role in Egypt. People are juggling around the thought that he will succeed Hosni Mubarak after he's gone. There seems to be a perception among some western media outlets that he's in charge, heck TIME magazine even mentions Mr. Suleiman as the power behind the throne. However, the possibility of Mr. Suleiman taking over seems slim due to his stigma of being tied to Mr. Mubarak.

    What do the members of WAB think of Mr. Suleiman and his future role in Egypt if any?
    Everybody sing this song, DooDah, DooDah