CAIRO, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Egyptian presidency has conducted secret talks with its political opponents in an effort to convince them to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s plan to hold elections in April has been hit by the announcement of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) that it will boycott the poll. However Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that in a bid to salvage the plan, the Egyptian president has opened secret communication channels with the opposition coalition in a bid to persuade its leaders to reverse their decision.
Source with knowledge of the secret negotiations revealed that President Mursi offered a limited cabinet reshuffle in return for the NSF’s agreement to participate. The source emphasized that this offer did not include removing Egyptian Minister for Local Development, Mohamed Bishr, from office. The appointment of Bishr, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, was strongly opposed by liberal and secular force groups.
The source, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the Egyptian presidency conducted indirect talks with Dr. Al-Sayyid El-Badawi, head of the liberal Wafd Party. The source claimed that Mursi also offered to replace Egypt’s unpopular Prosecutor-General Talaat Abdullah if the NSF agreed to take part in the elections.
Prosecutor General Talaat Abdullah’s tenure has been beset by controversy since his appointment by Mursi in November 2012. Less than one month after assuming office, Abdullah submitted a letter of resignation after hundreds of public prosecutors staged a sit-in protest outside his office. Mursi did not accept his resignation. The prosecutor general has also been accused by many activists of detaining protesters for political reasons.
The Egyptian source asserted that the secret talks regarding a potential cabinet reshuffle did not include the possibility of Bishr being shown the door because of the sensitivity of his relationship with the president. In addition to being a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, President Mursi’s son is married to Bishr’s daughter.
The source said: “If the presidency explicitly pledges to carry out the demanded constitutional amendments, in addition to a cabinet reshuffle that includes the ministerial portfolios tied to the electoral process—the Interior Minister, Justice Minister, and Youth Minister—then the Wafd party may choose to contest the elections on its own, away from the NSF.”
The NSF has called for the government to meet a set of conditions before it will agree to participate in Mursi’s national dialogue initiative and the scheduled parliamentary elections. These conditions include amending the controversial constitution and dismissing the government led by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.
Observers believe that the US is exerting pressure on the political parties in Egypt to come to an agreement on the major issues of contention before new US Secretary of State John Kerry visits the country later this month. The US State Department has urged the Egyptian opposition to reconsider its decision to boycott the parliamentary elections. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez told reporters that the US feels that it is “critical” for Egyptian parties to participate in the election.
The Egyptian source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that it is possible that the Egyptian Social Democratic Party could be lured away from the NSF, as well as the Wafd Party.
The source also told Asharq Al-Awsat that Dr. Saad El-Katatni, Chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, offered to guarantee the National Salvation Front 100 parliamentary seats in the forthcoming parliament during a secret meeting with Dr. ElBaradei and Badawi. This offer was rejected by the NSF.
The source revealed that Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Guide Khairat El-Shater had initially taken the initiative to request a meeting with the NSF. However the opposition leaders had refused to meet with Shater as he has no official ties to either the Egyptian presidency or the Freedom and Justice Party.