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03 December 2023

Opposition says meeting inconclusive

From right, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, Hossam Badrawy, secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party, El-Sayed el-Badawi, leader of the Wafd opposition party, Naguib Sawiris, member of the wise men committee, and Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim brotherhood's spokesperson, are seen during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, said it would begin talks Sunday with the government to try to end the country's political crisis but made clear it would insist on the immediate ouster of longtime authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. (AP)

By Reuters

Egyptian opposition groups said on Sunday a meeting with Vice President Omar Suleiman was positive but had done nothing specific to meet their demands for a complete political overhaul in Egypt.

The government said the sides had agreed to draft a road map for talks. A statement after the meeting indicated President Hosni Mubarak would stay in power to oversee changes, which is likely to anger protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding he leave now.

"Representatives from all political parties, civil societies and the council of Wise Men met with Vice President Omar Suleimen today and agreed to draft a road map," a cabinet spokesman said.

He said the meeting did not include the views of youth activists, who have been the driving force of protests against Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh, a senior member of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood which joined the talks despite the fact it is officially banned, said the government statement represented "good intentions but does not include any solid changes".

"We need President Mubarak to issue presidential decrees to change articles 76, 77, dissolve the parliament, release all political detainees the government knows very well, end emergency status," he said.

"Until then, the youth will remain on the streets and at the same time, discussions will continue," he said.

Aboul Fotouh was referring to an article of the constitution covering presidential elections, which now effectively put Mubarak's ruling party in a position to choose the next president, and another that allows the president to run for unlimited presidential terms.

According to a statement issued by the government, the sides agreed to form a committee to study constitutional and other reforms to propose changes by the first week of March.

The statement also said the sides agreed on lifting the state of emergency based on the "security situation". Critics say emergency law, in force for decades, was used to stifle dissent.

"The meeting was positive in general but it is only the beginning. We appreciated Omar Suleiman meeting with us independently after a general meeting with all political forces," Mustafa Naggar, coordinator for Mohamed ElBaradei's National Association for Change, said after the talks.

"We demanded a full democratic transformation and not partial reforms. But Suleiman responded: 'Democracy comes in stages and I am keen that there is a peaceful transitional period and civilian rule'."

Many of the opposition parties, including the Brotherhood, had said they would not meet any government representatives before Mubarak left power. The Brotherhood said on Saturday it had the right to abandon talks if they were not going anywhere.

On Saturday, Suleiman met prominent independent and mainstream opposition figures to go through possible options for a transition of power.

The group, calling themselves "The Council of Wise Men", have proposed a compromise whereby Mubarak signs over his powers to Suleiman but remains in office in a ceremonial capacity.

Their idea is for Suleiman to lead a transitional administration charged with carrying out political reform. He has urged the demonstrators to go home and help the country return to work.

Publicly at least, Suleiman, intelligence chief until Mubarak appointed him his deputy last month, appears to be taking the leading role in charting Egypt's future.