As the government tries to get the country back to normal, protesters continue to demand Mubarak’s ouster.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has cast doubt on the government’s willingness to follow through on promised reforms, following talks with authorities aimed at ending the country’s political crisis.
One of the group’s leaders told Al Jazeera that the Muslim Brotherhood does not trust the government to make its proposed changes – a development that came as pro-democracy rallies continued across the country.
The protests entered their fourteenth day on Monday, a day after tens of thousands of demonstrators observed a “day of the martyrs” in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the focal point of the protests – calling for an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Al Jazeera correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was at the square, was arrested by the military on Sunday afternoon, prompting calls from the channel and international media-rights groups for his release. He was freed nine hours later.
The army fired tracer rounds into the air at a cordon they had set up near the Egyptian Museum, an Al Jazeera correspondent in the square reported late on Sunday evening. An army tank also moved towards the 6th of October bridge, where protesters often gather, he said.
Both Muslims and Christians held prayers at the square for the victims of the uprising.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters also gathered in the cities of Alexandria and Mansoura, while thousands more protested in Mahalla. In other parts of the country, banks and shops began to reopen as normal life appeared to be resuming.
Omar Suleiman, the country’s newly appointed vice-president, began meetings with prominent independent and mainstream opposition figures on Saturday to go through the options, which centre on how to ensure free and fair presidential elections while sticking to the constitution.
The Egyptian president, in a televised address last Tuesday, said he would not seek re-election in September but refused to step down immediately, saying he feared “chaos”.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) played down Sunday’s meeting with Suleiman, saying that it was not prepared to drop its central demand of calling for Mubarak to resign as president.
“We cannot call it talks or negotiations. The Muslim Brotherhood went with a key condition that cannot be abandoned … that he [Mubarak] needs to step down in order to usher in a democratic phase,” Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a member of the MB, told Al Jazeera.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, cautiously welcomed the inclusion of the MB in talks, but said the US would “wait and see” what results the dialogue yields.
US president Barack Obama also weighed in again on the political situation in Egypt. He told the US television network Fox on Sunday that Egyptians would not permit a repressive government to fill the Mubarak void, adding that the MB is only one faction in Egypt.
Images shot by activists appear to show graphic scenes of intense fighting in Cairo and Alexandria
“But here’s the thing that we have to understand, there are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that want to come to the fore as well.
“So it’s important for us not to say that our own only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed people.”
The MB, which is formally banned but whose activities are tolerated, was one of several groups taking part in those talks. Other participants included members of secular opposition parties, independent legal experts and business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, attendees said.
A representative of Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition figure, was also in attendance.
ElBaradei, however, told the American television station NBC that he had not been invited to the talks. He criticised the negotiations for being “opaque”, saying that “nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage”.
The MB’s Fotouh described the meeting as testing the waters for what concessions the government was prepared to make.
He said he “did not see any … seriousness so far. They [the government] have failed to take concrete measurement on the ground.
“If they were serious, the parliament would have been dissolved, also a presidential decree ending the emergency law”.
He said that articles 77, 78 and 88 of the constitution should also have been amended by now.
Fotouh was referring to an article of the constitution covering presidential elections, which now effectively puts Mubarak’s governing NDP party in a position to choose the next president, and another that allows the president to run for unlimited presidential terms.
He said the Muslim Brotherhood “does not seek power” and will not be fielding a candidate for president in elections.
He asserted that the organisation was not prepared to step back from its demand for Mubarak’s departure, saying that if it did, the move would be a “betrayal of the martyrs who have died in the these protests”.
According to a statement from Suleiman’s office following Sunday’s talks, the government offered to form a committee to examine proposed constitutional amendments, pursue allegedly corrupt government officials, “liberalise” media and communications and lift the state of emergency in the country when the security situation was deemed to be appropriate.
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A proposal being promoted by a group of Egyptians calling itself the The Council of Wise Men involves Suleiman assuming presidential powers for an interim period pending elections.
But some opposition figures argue that would mean the next presidential election would be held under the same unfair conditions as in previous years.
They want to first form a new parliament to change the constitution to pave the way for a presidential vote that is democratic.
An Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo described the news of the MB joining the talks as “highly significant”.
“They are interested in talking about the resignation of president Mubarak,” he said. “They want parliament resolved, they want those responsible for violence of the last few days put on trial … and wanting to be able to peacefully protest.”
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Alexandria – one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strongholds – says many people are surprised by the group’s decision to enter talks.
He said it is a major concession that might be seen as a “weakness” in the sense that the MB did not stick to its stated position against joining negotiations until Mubarak resigns.
Cherif Bassiouni, president of the Egyptian American Society and a former UN human rights expert, said the MB has already proved itself to be a responsible participant in Egypt’s legislative process.
“They participated in the 2005 legislative elections. They elected 88 members to the parliament. So they’ve had a role in the secular parliament,” Bassiouni said.