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Islamist coalition calls for dialogue to ease Egypt's crisis

A poster of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi is pictured on barbed wires during a protest by his supporters at El-Thadiya presidentia
A poster of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi is pictured on barbed wires during a protest by his supporters at El-Thadiya presidentia

By Maggie Fick

CAIRO (Reuters) - A coalition of Islamists said on Saturday it was ready to seek dialogue to end Egypt's bloody political crisis, on condition that the army-backed government halt a security crackdown.

The public offer was the first of its kind by the group since the violent dispersal of pro-Islamist sit-ins this summer, and it notably did not call for the reinstatement of ousted president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The most populous Arab state was thrown into turmoil after the army overthrew Mursi on July 3.

It was not immediately clear if the move would be backed by top leaders of the Brotherhood, which is part of the alliance, the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy, or how the military-backed government would respond.

Since hundreds were killed by security forces in the break-up of Islamist protest vigils in August, there has been no sign that either side is willing to open a dialogue to ease the turmoil, which has ravaged investment and tourism.

Saturday's initiative could signal a willingness by the Brotherhood to pull their supporters off the streets, limiting the chance for confrontation, ahead of another round of mass protests called for this week.

The Coalition said at a press conference that dialogue could occur only if detainees were released and Islamist protesters were allowed to demonstrate peacefully.

It also made the dialogue conditional on an end to "hate campaigns" by the media. It said that satellite channels that broadcast Islamist views must be allowed back on air.

State and private media have been in lockstep with the military-backed authorities since Mursi's overthrow, helping to whip up a public frenzy against the Brotherhood and its supporters.

TWO-WEEK WINDOW

Mohamed Ali Bishr, a Brotherhood leader who represented the group in meetings with Western diplomats as they attempted to negotiate an end to the sit-ins before they were broken up, said the dialogue offer was "limited to two weeks".

Bishr, one of the few Brotherhood leaders not in jail, is seen as someone who could possibly negotiate with the military-backed authorities.

The government has unleashed a fierce crackdown against the Brotherhood since Mursi's overthrow, arresting thousands of its members, including Mursi and most of its top leaders.

It has accused the Brotherhood of carrying out terrorist acts and said it would only be welcome in politics again if it renounced violence.

The group has been banned, and a panel of judges on Saturday recommended that its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, be dissolved.

The Brotherhood, for decades a non-violent underground movement, denies espousing the use of force and says the army staged a coup and undermined democratic gains made since a popular uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

It remains to be seen whether either the government or the top Brotherhood leaders, who have rejected dialogue outright and insist that Mursi remains the legitimate president, might be ready to compromise.

"It could be a turning point in the crisis if it was taken seriously by the government," said Khail al-Anani, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

"This is the first time for the coalition to implicitly remove the requirement of reinstating Mursi," he said. "It can give a small window for negotiation."

If the initiative gains traction, it might result in the Brotherhood suspending street protests and limiting the scope for confrontation. A state of emergency and nightly curfew, declared after Mursi's overthrow, were ended on Thursday.

Western allies want the government to create an inclusive political process to bring stability to Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the strategic Suez Canal.

(Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Michael Georgy and Kevin Liffey)

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