Exclusive: Egypt pro-Mursi alliance signals flexibility in talks

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 03, 2013 9:55 AM
Exclusive: Egypt pro-Mursi alliance signals flexibility in talks

By Tom Perry

CAIRO (Reuters) - Allies of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi told mediators on Saturday they respected the popular will expressed in mass protests that led to his downfall, suggesting they might be backing away from a demand he be reinstated.

Tarek El-Malt, spokesman for the pro-Mursi delegation that met envoys from the United States and the European Union, said his camp sought a resolution to Egypt's crisis based on the constitution that was suspended after he was deposed.

Speaking to Reuters by telephone, Malt said Mursi's allies told the envoys they wanted the constitution restored and said it held "more than one solution" to the crisis. He added that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who overthrew Mursi, must not be part of a political deal without Mursi.

Asked whether the delegation had told the envoys that Mursi must be reinstated, Malt said that would be worked out in the details, notably not reiterating the demand for his return.

"This is part of the political initiatives," he said. "We did not get into the details of the political initiatives".

He said if those who opposed Mursi continued to insist that he should not be part of the "political equation", then "the steadfastness and sit-ins of the millions in the streets for five weeks requires that Sisi must also not be in the political equation."

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood-allied Wasat Party, Malt is the appointed spokesman of the delegation that met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson and European Union special envoy Bernardino Leon.

The delegation also includes top members of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

Later, senior Brotherhood politician Essam El-Erian said restoring the 2012 constitution meant Mursi would see out his term. However, diplomats say the Brotherhood understands Mursi, detained at a secret location, will not return as president but they want a face-saving legal formula for him to step down.

"Those empowered to speak for the FJP understand that Mursi is not coming back. But they are maintaining that as a negotiating position," a Western diplomat said.

Another diplomat involved in the talks said pro-Mursi alliance had shown flexibility in Saturday's meeting.

Relaying the messages delivered to the envoys, Malt said: "I respect and hold in regard the demands of the masses that went out on June 30, but I will not build on the military coup."

He added that the demands of the Mursi supporters must also be respected. Mursi supporters still protesting in Cairo want the constitution and Mursi reinstated.

"We have the readiness and flexibility to accept political solutions to get out of this crisis as long as they are based on constitutional legitimacy, by which we mean the return and reactivation of the 2012 constitution," Malt said.

He added that political solutions must be hammered out with the National Salvation Front - the loose coalition of non-Islamist parties that backed Mursi's overthrow and which includes interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei.

"We (will) sit together and we will assess proposed political initiatives and reach solutions that respect all popular desires. But the army will not have a role in political solutions," he said.

"The army must remain neutral and not interfere in political life," he added.

Malt said a period of calm was needed to build confidence among all parties. He said this would include a renunciation of violence, the release of what he called political detainees and allowing Islamist television stations to reopen.

The army-backed government says the Brotherhood has incited violence, accusing it of engaging in terrorism. Malt said the delegation had underscored the pro-Mursi camp's commitment to peaceful protests.

They also condemned violence in the Sinai Peninsula, where attacks by militant Islamists have escalated since Mursi's downfall. "It has nothing to do with the protests and sit-ins and we reject it strongly and we condemn any attack on the Egyptian armed forces or the police," Malt said.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)