An Islamist coalition led by the Muslim Brotherhood on Saturday offered negotiations to end the deadly tumult since Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow, without explicitly insisting on his reinstatement.
The coalition “calls on all revolutionary forces and political parties and patriotic figures to enter a deep dialogue on exiting the current crisis,” it said in a statement.
The proposal comes after more than 1,000 people, mostly Morsi supporters, were killed in clashes with police and thousands more arrested following his overthrow by the military on July 3.
The coalition, which has organised weekly protests despite the crackdown, insisted in its statement on keeping up “peaceful opposition”, but said it wanted a “consensus for the public good of the country”.
Much of the Brotherhood’s leadership has been put on trial, including Morsi himself.
“We have no conditions, and neither should they,” Imam Youssef, a leader of the Islamist coalition member the Asala party, told AFP.
But he said the talks must lead to a “democratic” solution, and the coalition wanted them to start within two weeks.
The Islamists were prepared to respect the demands of the millions of protesters who called for Morsi’s ouster, Youssef said.
“We want a democratic solution, and it does not necessarily mean we have to be in power,” he added.
Asked if the coalition would insist on Morsi’s return to office, he replied: “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
A senior member of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said the statement did not mean the Islamists dropped their demand on Morsi’s reinstatement, but were open to discussing how he could constitutionally resign.
“The range is there and there are disagreeing visions,” he said, adding some insist Morsi must complete his term, while others would accept he resign immediately and give his powers to a prime minister.
“As for the details, if they are in accordance with legitimacy and the constitution, the (solution) would be okay,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
The talks proposed Saturday were aimed at political parties, he added.
“We can have a conversation with the coup authorities, but only if they accept the framework.”
‘Prisoners must be freed’
The coalition statement said Islamist prisoners must be released and Islamist broadcasters closed after Morsi’s overthrow must be reopened.
They also insisted that the military, which has formally handed power to an interim civilian government, must “return to the barracks”.
Unlike previous offers, which all hinged on Morsi’s return to power before negotiations, the Islamists were pointedly vague on their goals.
They demanded “a return to constitutional legitimacy and the democratic process with the participation of all political groups, without one group monopolising the process or excluding any group”.
The vague formulation allows the Islamists room to manoeuvre.
“It was vague and perhaps part of the idea here is not to get into details because that would alienate certain constituencies,” said Shadi Hamid, research head at the Brookings Doha Center and an expert on the Islamists.
“It’s certainly a more conciliatory tone,” he told AFP.
But “there’s not much detail there; it’s a laundry list of revolutionary and democratic objectives without really explaining how to get there”.
The interim government has insisted that the Islamists unconditionally accept its authority and schedule for elections.
It says those who have not taken part in violence would be free to stand for election.
Western-mediated talks between the Islamists and the government had broken down before August 14, when police moved in on two pro-Morsi Cairo protest camps and killed hundreds in clashes.
A court has since banned the Brotherhood, and on Saturday a panel of judges also recommended that its FJP be dissolved.
Such recommendations are non-binding but often adopted in the final verdict.
Morsi himself insisted at the start of his trial on November 4 for allegedly inciting the killing of opposition protesters that he was still Egypt’s legitimate president.
The interim government will organise parliamentary elections in February or March, followed by presidential elections in the summer of 2014.
The Islamist-dominated parliament had already been suspended by a court before Morsi’s election in June 2012, and the senate was dissolved on his overthrow.