Egyptian Islamist groups seek truce with army

Egyptian soldiers hold on to their caps as

Egyptian soldiers hold on to their caps as a helicopter carrying former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, not pictured, lands at the Maadi Military Hospital in Cairo, Egypt. (Aug. 25, 2013) (Credit: AP)

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CAIRO - Two former Egyptian militant groups have proposed a truce between the military and the ousted president's Muslim Brotherhood group, in a move that highlights the extent to which Islamists have been weakened by a massive security crackdown.

The leaders of the Gamaa Islamiya and Islamic Jihad movements said Monday their initiative calls for supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi to cease street demonstrations if the military-backed government halts their moves against them.

The two groups, which waged an insurgency against the government in the 1990s but later renounced violence, want the army and Brotherhood to enter into dialogue. The military deposed Morsi on July 3 after millions took to the street demanding his resignation.

Morsi's allies have previously insisted on his reinstatement as a precondition to talks, but Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed Abu Samra told The Associated Press that the proposed truce had no "red lines."

While the groups do not speak for the Brotherhood itself, the initiative is a new sign of flexibility from the pro-Morsi Islamist camp, whose protest campaign is waning. Hundreds of Brotherhood leaders and organizers have been arrested in the crackdown and numbers at their formerly massive rallies have dwindled.

Egypt's worst bout of violence in its past 2 ½ years of turmoil was set off when security forces backed by snipers and armored vehicles broke up two sprawling pro-Morsi protest camps on Aug. 14. More than 1,000 people, mostly Morsi supporters, were killed in the raids and other violence over the next several days. Morsi's supporters retaliated by attacking dozens of police stations, torching churches and setting government buildings on fire.

"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.

The crackdown continued however on Monday, as the state news agency announced the arrest of former youth minister and senior Brotherhood member Osama Yassin.

Top Brotherhood negotiator Amr Darrag said the group is open for talks but needs "confidence-building measures." 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."

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood called for new rallies on Aug. 30. A security official said authorities would be on high alert nationwide that day for fear of new bout of violence.

The interim president's office could not be immediately reached for comment. Egypt's 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.

He ruled out talks with anyone who had committed acts of violence, however.

The Brotherhood has lost much public support and is now largely resented by the general population. Its offices and Brotherhood-owned businesses have been attacked, while Egypt's media — almost uniformly against it since the closure of Islamist TV stations — describes the group as "terrorist."

In one incident Monday, authorities arrested the head of a kindergarten in the Nile Delta city of Kafr el-Zayat after parents complained she was teaching children pro-Morsi songs and anti-military chants, a security official said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Mohammed Hassan, spokesman of the Gamaa Islamiyah group, which once attacked police, Coptic Christians and tourists, said Islamists fear that the army could split if it continued using what he called excessive force against Islamists. "Things could get out of control and the army could fall apart," he said.

Attackers have attacked security forces almost daily in the largely lawless Sinai peninsula since Morsi's ouster. Islamic extremist groups head to the area to take refuge and set up training camps.

In the latest deadly incident, unknown attackers lined up and shot at least 25 men from the security forces after pulling them off a bus in a town near the border with the Gaza Strip last week.

Most Islamist currents already appear to have bowed to the security crackdown. The ultraconservative al-Nour party, for example, which was the only Islamist political faction to support Morsi's ouster, at first opposed amending parts of the constitution related to Islamic Shariah law. But on Sunday it said it will join a 50-member panel tasked to review the charter, saying it hopes to defend key Islamic references added to the text under Morsi.

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