Published August 26, 2013
CAIRO – Two of Egypt's former militant groups are offering an initiative to halt the country's political violence, in which supporters of the ousted Islamist president will stop street protests if the military-backed government stops its crackdown on them, the groups' leaders said Monday.
The initiative led by Egypt's Gamaa Islamiya and Islamic Jihad movements, which waged an insurgency in the 1990s, aims to bring dialogue between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which toppled President Mohammed Morsi hails. Morsi was overthrown by the military on July 3 after millions took to the street demanding that he step down.
Morsi's allies had previously insisted that he be restored to power as starting point for any talks, but Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed Abu Samra told The Associated Press that negotiations had no "red lines."
The groups do not speak for the Brotherhood, but the initiative is a new sign of flexibility from the pro-Morsi alliance of mostly Islamist groups. It comes as the Islamists' protest campaign wanes and numbers at their formerly massive rallies dwindle. Hundreds of Brotherhood leaders and organizers have been arrested in the crackdown.
Egypt's worst bout of violence in its 2 1/2 years of turmoil was set off when security forces backed by snipers and armored vehicles moved in to break up two sprawling pro-Morsi protest camps on Aug. 14. More than 1,000 people were killed in the raids and other violence over the next several days, mostly Morsi supporters.
"We are paving the way for talks," Abu Samra said over the phone. "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.
He said that the Islamists will stop demonstrations so long as the military halts its crackdown and stops defaming the Brotherhood in mosques and in the media. Asked if Islamist groups would accept talks without demanding Morsi's reinstatement, he said, "Blood is more valuable than the seat of power."
Top Muslim Brotherhood negotiator Amr Darrag said that the group is open for talks but after "confidence-building measures." However, 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 but no action."
It was not immediately possible to reach the interim president's political advisers for comment. Egypt's Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi had earlier 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.
However, he ruled out talks with anyone who had committed acts of violence.