Is it possible to reach an agreement with the outlawed Brotherhood?
Last October, political scientist Hassan Nafaa sent a proposal to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) detailing how the government could broker a truce with the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies and put a stop to the political violence gripping the country.
The main idea of the proposal: reconciliation, or at the very least, bringing together state representatives and Brotherhood figures to agree on a political path beyond bloody confrontation.
Nafaa's suggestions were met with an outcry of anger from many pro-government quarters. Officially, the proposal wasn't declined or even acknowledged.
In early February, Nafaa publicly released his proposal for debate. Again, it was ignored by the government and the Brotherhood.
However, Brotherhood sources told Ahram Online that Nafaa's proposal has been welcomed by members of the group's Guidance Bureau.
"The idea offers a reasonable way forward and yes, we can move forward on that basis," said a Brotherhood member.
He said that the group would wish for immunity against "continued persecution" and the release of its top leadership along with some of its members. If that happened, he said, perhaps the Brotherhood could take part in upcoming parliamentary elections, as long as there was international monitoring.
"But that is just a maybe," he said, adding that no details have been worked out regarding the reconciliation.
A high-ranking state official told Ahram Online that a settlement with the Brotherhood is inevitable, although still very far off.
"Let's face it, sooner or later this matter is going to have to be attended to in a political way," the state source said. "The question is, however, when would this happen and under whose conditions. As far as we're concerned, it's not happening soon and it will have to happen under our conditions."
This is the viewpoint of most in official quarters, he said, with the exception of those at the interior ministry, which has a much more unyielding view on the matter.
"Most people at the interior ministry will tell you that the only way to go about the Brotherhood is to crush them so hard that they fully succumb, as was the case with Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya in the 1990s," he said.
Either way, he said that reconciliation is not an immediate possibility, not with the ongoing escalation in militant attacks on security personnel across the country.
An agreement now, he said, would be perceived by the public and the Brotherhood as a sign of the government's "hesitation" in its plan to rout violent Islamic elements from society.
On Monday, The Court for Urgent Matters upheld the designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. The former interim government led by Hazem El-Beblawi declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group in December, but the decision had not been approved by a court until this week.
So far, all calls for a political approach to the Brotherhood have been shrugged off.
Mohamed Aboul-Ghar, leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, agreed that now is not the best time.
"Anyone who dares to talk of reconciliation now would be immediately and ferociously attacked," Aboul-Ghar said.
Aboul-Ghar said that while a resolution lacks support from the government, varied political groups and the Brotherhood, a possible way forward could be through young Brotherhood members.
A leading member of Brotherhood youth told Ahram Online that he and others like him were thinking of making a "fresh start."
"We were never in approval with many of the leadership's decisions that caused for the entire country, not just the Brotherhood, to go astray," he said.
There's talk now of forming a youth organisation within the Brotherhood to focus on "non-partisan social issues," he said, although he conceded that it seems unlikely with the current terrorism label.
For now, most observers say that any serious pursuit of reconciliation will have to wait until a new president is inaugurated.
"Obviously the next president – no matter who – will have to pursue social cohesion with those not involved in any bloodshed because it would be impossible to see how he could rule otherwise,” said political scientist Moustafa Kamel El-Sayed.
El-Sayed said that beyond the formalities of reconciliation, what counts is the state's ability to seriously pursue the establishment of a solid inclusive democracy. This means the next president's team and cabinet will need to be as fairly inclusive as possible, he said.
But it will also depend on Islamists in general and the Brotherhood in particular to be willing to play the political game according to the rules of democracy and not hegemony, El-Sayed said.
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