Khairat El-Shater, the jailed deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and four foreign mediators have offered a prospect for a deal that could "reduce political heat," "avert further violence and bloodshed" and "offer a possible exit from the current crisis," according to Egyptian political sources and foreign diplomats in Cairo.
According to a security source, the meeting began late Sunday evening, continuing overnight into early Monday, at the Tora Prison in southeast Cairo after El-Shater and the interior ministry showed reluctance following a leak that was made to Al-Jazeera.
In his meeting with the assistant secretary of state William Burns, the assistance to the EU envoy Bernadino Leon, and the foreign ministers of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates Khalid Al-Attiyah and Abdullah bin Zayed, El-Shater was abrupt, angry, sceptical and defensive, according to sources who spoke to Ahram Online.
According to the same sources, in the diplomatic talks with Brotherhood figures, including El-Shater, it has been stressed that there is no going back to the pre-30 June scene in Egypt and that eyes should be on the future.
On 30 June nation-wide demonstrations called for early presidential elections to prematurely terminate the four-year term of elected president Mohamed Morsi, only one year after he was inaugurated. Three days later, the armed forces removed Morsi from power, in cooperation with a wide range of political forces including a limited Islamist participation, in response to nationwide popular protests against him. The army also announced a roadmap for the future that should allow for a new president, new parliament and consensual constitution to be in place in about 9 months.
The Muslim Brotherhood was hoping that the international community would agree to qualify the change as an outright coup d’etat and thus enforce the re-instatement of Morsi.
EU foreign policy commissioner Catherine Ashton told Morsi in plain talk last week that it was too late to restore the pre-30 June setup. This point was reiterated to El-Shater by the mediating ‘quartet.'
"Yes, even the Qatari foreign minister is aware that there is no going back to the past," said an Egyptian official who asked to remain anonymous.
Qatar has been the closest supporter of the Morsi regime and was expected to continue its alliance with the Brotherhood following the consenting change at the top of the ruling regime in Doha. However, the change of positions in Washington brought about the new Qatari realisation of the facts on the ground.
The meeting between El-Shater and the negotiating ‘quartet’ was not just about the principles but also about the details of the deal that would allow for a peaceful end to two major sit-in protests that the Brotherhood have been staging in Cairo and Giza for several weeks. Security forces were planning to forcefully disperse the sit-ins, but the prime minister and military have both called for security to hold off on the operation that could cost hundreds of casualties.
Sources who have listened to the assessments of the negotiating 'quartet' said El-Shater was mostly reserved during his talks. However, the same sources said that the strong man of the oldest political Islam group is aware that he needs to make a deal.
In the assessment of the Cairo-based Western diplomats, if a deal is to be made with the Muslim Brotherhood it would be made through El-Shater. He would be the pick to reach an agreement not because he is the strongest man within reach – Mahmoud Ezzat the other strong man is not a deal maker and he is said by security sources to have fled to Gaza on 30 June – but because he is the most pragmatic. The Brotherhood leader would therefore be aware that he needs to "cut its losses."