Deal To Hasten Transition In Egypt Is Jeered At Protests

The agreement, which centered on a presidential election by late June,
appeared unlikely to extinguish the resurgent protest movement — the
largest since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.
The crowd roared its disapproval when the deal was announced at 8
p.m., fighting spiked on the avenue leading to the Interior Ministry,
and the number of protesters continued to swell.

Unlikely to satisfy the public demands for the military to leave
power, the deal may have driven a new wedge into the opposition,
reopening a divide between the seething public and the political
elite, between liberals and Islamists and, as events unfolded, among
the Islamists themselves.

“We refuse it, and the square has refused it already,” said Islam
Lotfy, a former leader of the youth wing of the Muslim Brotherhood who
was expelled from the organization with a group of others for starting
a centrist political party. “They did not offer anything new. They are
just bargaining with the people.”

Just four days ago, the Muslim Brotherhood kicked off a wave of
protests against the military’s increasingly explicit attempts to
decree for itself special powers and protections under the future
constitution. But when a heavyhanded crackdown on demonstrators
ignited a far broader and more violent backlash against the military’s
power grab, Brotherhood leaders sent mixed signals about whether to
join the swelling protests. And while other political groups called
for a huge demonstration on Tuesday, the Brotherhood ordered its
members to stay away for fear of jeopardizing elections as the
violence hit a peak.

The Health Ministry said 31 people died in four days of unrest, and
more than 600 were injured on Tuesday alone.

For the military and the Brotherhood, the deal was the closest embrace
yet in the off-again-on-again partnership since the revolution between
the country’s two most powerful institutions — reprising roles played
out under Mr. Mubarak, who outlawed, but tolerated, the Muslim
Brotherhood during his three decades in power.

For Egyptian liberals, the open deal between the two most powerful and
organized forces in the nation raised fears of being caught between
groups at odds with their goals: a military reluctant to submit to
democratic oversight, and an Islamist movement with a potentially
narrow view of individual freedoms.

“Pessimists fear the Saudi scenario,” Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, a liberal
activist, said recently, referring to the possibility of imposing both
strict Islamic moral codes and a harshly undemocratic government.

The agreement was worked out in a meeting held by Gen. Sami Enan, a
top leader of the military council, who invited all of the major
political parties and their leaders. Most liberal parties and leaders,
including the presidential contender Mohamed ElBaradei, declined to
attend, as did the moderate former Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim
Aboul Fotouh, another presidential contender. All said that
negotiating with the generals would confer legitimacy on their
authority and that the solution to the crisis should come from the
protesters in the street.

Of the roughly 10 parties and leaders that met with General Enan, the
Brotherhood was easily the most influential. For the Brotherhood, the
accord promises to achieve a critical goal, by beginning the first
parliamentary elections in the post-Mubarak era on Monday, as
scheduled; the Brotherhood’s newly formed Freedom and Justice Party is
poised to reap big gains from its advantages in outreach and
organizing. And with those gains in the new parliament, the
Brotherhood would be able to help shape the writing of a constitution.

For the military, the deal would allow it to retain unfettered
authority at least until late June. Many liberals and Islamists had
grown concerned in recent months about the military’s increasingly
overt effort to preserve a decisive role for itself in politics far
into the future.