Egypt protests: Government holds talks with opposition
Egypt’s government is holding key talks with members of the opposition, following days of protests calling for President Hosni Mubarak to resign. Egypt’s most influential opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was attending, urging the government to “accept the demands of the people”.
It is the first time the government and the banned Brotherhood have held talks. Opposition groups have called on Mr Mubarak to resign immediately, but he says to do so would cause chaos. He has said instead that he will not stand for re-election in elections due in September.
Meanwhile, many banks opened for the first time in a week, with long queues forming to withdraw money.
Huge crowds have been on the streets of Cairo and other cities in the past two weeks calling for democratic reforms, and tens of thousands again flocked to the capital’s Tahrir Square on Sunday.
Vice-President Omar Suleiman was hosting the talks on Sunday, with a number of other opposition parties, including Wafd and Tagammu.
The BBC’s Jon Leyne, in Cairo, says there is a wide array of opposition voices at the talks, along with a number of other “wise men”, including top business figure Naguib Sawiris.
Our correspondent says that high on the opposition’s agenda will be the transition to free and fair elections as soon as possible – the problem of Mr Mubarak’s resignation remains, but they are working around that for the moment.
Mr Suleiman had invited the groups last week, telling the Muslim Brotherhood it was a “valuable opportunity”.
The Brotherhood had previously said it would not take part in the negotiations. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s attendance but would “wait and see” how the dialogue developed.
The Islamist group is Egypt’s most influential and well-organised opposition but it remains officially banned and its members and leaders have been subject to frequent repression. Mr Mubarak has blamed it for the unrest and said that if he leaves, the group will exploit the ensuing political chaos.
The Muslim Brotherhood denies accusations that it is seeking to create an Islamist state in Egypt. Our correspondent, Jon Leyne, says the Brotherhood is undoubtedly a force in Egypt but it is itself divided and unclear in its intentions.
Hundreds of bank branches across the country and in Cairo opened at 1000 local time (0800 GMT). Long queues formed at some for the brief opening period – the banks closed again at 1330 local time.
The central bank has released some if its $36bn in official foreign reserves to cover withdrawals, amid fears Egyptians would be panicked into taking out their savings. Deputy central bank governor Hisham Ramez has said he is confident all transactions will be honoured.
The government is seeking to revive an economy said to be losing at least $310m (£192m) a day. Many shops, factories and the stock exchange have been closed for days, and basic goods have been running short. Correspondents say many Egyptians have been wondering how quickly daily life will return to normal regardless of the outcome of the struggle for power.
But they also say there is no let up in the magnitude of the protests in Tahrir Square, and the mood is almost back to the festival atmosphere of the first few days, with many families and young children in attendance.
The US – a key ally of the Mubarak government – has called for a swift transition of power, although it has not explicitly told Mr Mubarak to leave. It has also encouraged all parties to fully engage in talks.
But there was confusion on Saturday after US special envoy Frank Wisner, who was sent by President Barack Obama to Cairo apparently to urge Mr Mubarak to announce his departure, said he thought Mr Mubarak “must stay in office” to oversee the transition, saying his “continued leadership is critical”.
The US state department later distanced itself from the comments, saying they were Mr Wisner’s own and were not co-ordinated with the US government.
The leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) resigned en masse on Friday, apparently in response to the protests.
Two of Mr Mubarak’s allies, including his son Gamal, lost their posts while Hossam Badrawi was appointed secretary general.