CAIRO – After weeks of deadly clashes, Egypt’s military-backed government and supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi may be edging toward a compromise that could ease the latest unrest threatening the nation’s erratic path toward democracy.
Egypt remains volatile, and mistrust between the two sides is deep. But the government and Morsi loyalists, notably his Muslim Brotherhood movement, met over the weekend with international envoys in efforts to calm the divisions in the Arab world’s most populous and strategically important country.
Thousands of the former president’s supporters have vowed to not end their sit-in at the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque until Morsi, who was overthrown in a coup last month, is reinstated. In recent days, however, Islamists have acknowledged for the first time the discontent that led millions of Egyptians to rally against Morsi, triggering Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, commander of the armed forces, to act.
“Political solutions must be found,” Tarek El Malt, a leader in the pro-Morsi wing, was quoted as saying by the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.
That opens the possibility of wider negotiations with the government. But the Brotherhood, at least publicly, is demanding concessions the army may refuse, including releasing Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders from detention, freeing the group’s financial assets and lifting a ban on several Islamist television stations.
The scenario is dangerous for the Brotherhood. The once-outlawed organization emerged as the country’s most potent political voice in 2012. But its disastrous year in power created a backlash. It now risks angering its base if it appears to compromise too much with the government. And it faces further alienation – and squandering a chance to shape a new constitution – by not rejoining the political process.
The implications of Morsi’s overthrow have raised doubts about whether political Islam can flourish in Egypt, Tunisia and other nations rising from the 2011 Arab revolutions. The Brotherhood is the most influential Islamist movement in the world; its failure to rule effectively illustrates that many Egyptians want a clear line drawn between religion and politics.
The largely secular interim government is struggling with its own dilemmas. It is split between hard-liners and moderates, including Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose reputation could be damaged by a bloody crackdown on Islamists.
“Those who want to crush the Brotherhood accuse me of being soft. I don’t believe my concern over the loss of lives makes me a soft man,” ElBaradei said in a television interview Saturday. “It’s easy to get angry and say we’ll crush the Islamists, but it will result in massive deaths.”
In a provocative action by the government Sunday, a Cairo court announced that the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, and its chief financier and strategist, Khairat Shater, would stand trial on murder charges related to clashes outside the organization’s headquarters that began in June.