World

Egyptian Islamist groups seek truce with army

Two former militant groups are proposing an initiative to end Egypt's deadly political violence, whereby supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi will stop protesting if the military-backed government halts its crackdown on them.

The Muslim Brotherhood boat 'is sinking right now,' says analyst

Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi argue with riot police and army personnel in Cairo earlier this month. A pair of Islamist groups are trying to negotiate an end to confrontations that have left more than 1,000 people dead. (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)

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, over similar charges.

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 too late."

Morsi's allies had previously insisted that he be restored to power as a starting point for any talks, but Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed Abu Samra said negotiations had 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 long upholding return of the constitutional legitimacy."

Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected head of state, was ousted July 3, slightly more than a year after he took office. His supporters are ardent about returning him to power. (Maya Alleruzzo/Associated Press)

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 over the past month. 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."

It was not immediately possible to reach the interim president's political advisers for comment. Egyptian 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.