Muslim Brotherhood May Quit Talks

Reuters is reporting that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has said it could pull out of talks with the government if opposition demands were not met, including the immediate exit of President Hosni Mubarak.

“We are assessing the situation. We are going to reconsider the whole question of dialogue,” the Brotherhood’s Essam el-Erian told Reuters on Monday. “We will reconsider according to the results. Some of our demands have been met but there has been no response to our principal demands that Mubarak leave.”

Opposition figures reported little progress in the talks. While protesters worry that when Mubarak does leave, he will be replaced not with the democracy they seek but with another authoritarian ruler.

However, today’s New York Times paints a scene of dwindling numbers of protestors amidst a backdrop of returning normality:

With Egypt’s revolt entering a third week, many parts of Cairo appeared to be resuming normal life on Monday: ATMs dispensed much-needed cash, shops and banks were staffed — though some kept their doors shut to customers — and the city’s drivers were snarled in a vast traffic jam.

The government met on Monday for its first formal meeting since President Hosni Mubarak reorganized it in the early days of the uprising, announcing a 15 percent salary hike for government employees, according to news reports.

The move appeared targeted at shoring up support for Mr. Mubarak among the six million workers on the government payroll and defuse popular support for the ongoing protests. The newly appointed finance minister, Samir Radwan, said the pay raise would take effect in April, The Associated Press reported; other reports suggested that the raise might be a one-time bonus.

Still, signs that the revolt had not ended were rife. Plans to reopen the stock exchange were postponed until Sunday. The army kept columns of armored personnel carriers patrolling the streets, and burnt-out vehicles remained in various squares. The group of young professionals who used Facebook to organize protests called for a general strike Tuesday.

Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the demonstrations, teemed with protesters and a small army of vendors selling cigarettes, coffee — even sweet potatoes wrapped in a list of the protesters’ demands. A dozen horse-carts, bereft of their usual tourist trade, waited for fares at the edges of the square. One idled driver, Muhammad Adel, said, “I am hopeful I can make some money here.”

The crowds demanding the immediate departure of Mr. Mubarak were smaller. But there were enough to form a human chain blocking the entrance to the Mugamma, a huge edifice on Cairo’s central square built in the 1950s to house the city’s labyrinthine bureaucracy — a central part of everyday life.

On Sunday, the government announced that the transition had begun with a meeting between Vice President Omar Suleiman and two representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Islamist group the Egyptian government has sought to repress for many years as a threat to stability. They met as part of a group of about 50 prominent Egyptians and opposition figures, including officials of the small, recognized opposition parties, as well as a handful of young people who helped start the protest movement.

While both sides acknowledged the meeting as unprecedented, its significance quickly became another skirmish in the battle between the president and the protesters. Mr. Suleiman released a statement — widely reported on state television and instantly a focal point in Washington — declaring that the meeting had produced a “consensus” about a path to reform, including the promise to form a committee to recommend constitutional changes by early March. The other elements echoed pledges Mr. Mubarak had already made, including a limit on how many terms a president can serve.

Leaders of the protest movement, including both its youthful members and Brotherhood officials, denounced Mr. Suleiman’s portrayal of the meeting as a political ploy intended to suggest that some in their ranks were collaborating.

Though the movement has only a loose leadership, it has coalesced around a unified set of demands, centered on Mr. Mubarak’s resignation, but also including the dissolution of one-party rule and revamping the Constitution that protected it, and Mr. Suleiman gave no ground on any of those demands.

“We did not come out with results,” said Mohamed Morsy, a Brotherhood leader who attended, while others explained that the Brotherhood had attended only to reiterate its demands and show openness to dialogue.

The standoff over the meeting underscored the conflicting narratives about the next chapter of the revolt that has shaken Egypt and the wider Arab world.

Complete stories available via New York Times and Reuters

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