CAIRO — As Western powers backed the Egyptian vice president’s attempt to defuse a popular uprising, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood joined other groups meeting with him on Sunday in what seemed a significant departure in the nation’s uprising and political history. The Brotherhood is an outlawed organization often depicted by the authorities as committed to the overthrow of the secular order in the heart of the Middle East. Official attitudes to it have swung between outright repression and reluctant tolerance.
A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, Gamal Nassar, said the huge and sometimes violent demonstrations that have paralyzed Cairo for 13 days, reverberating around the Middle East, would continue “until the political path can have a role in achieving the aspirations of the protesters” — an apparent reference to their goal of removing President Hosni Mubarak.
Mr. Nassar said mediators had brokered the encounter with Vice President Omar Suleiman, in a remarkable first enocunter the Islamist organization — Egypt’s biggest opposition movement — and an autocratic government that has portrayed as the harbinger of an Islamic state. For decades, Egyptian has won Western support as a bulwark against political dominance by the popular Islamist party founded in 1928.
“The brothers decided to enter a round of dialogue to determine how serious the officials are achieving the demands of the people,” Mr. Nassar said. “The regime keeps saying we’re open to dialogue and the people are the ones refusing, so the Brotherhood decided to examine the situation from all different sides.”
“The Egyptian regime is stubborn, and cannot relinquish power easily,” he said. “In politics, you must hear everyone’s opinions.” Another member of the Brotherhood, former lawmaker Mohasen Rady, said the organization had not abandoned its demand for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. “He can leave in any way the regime would accept him to leave, but it has to be that he is out,” he said. Other members of the Brotherhood described its presence at the talks on Sunday as exploratory rather than part of a full negotiation.
According to The Associated Press,footage on state television showed youthful supporters of a leading democracy advocate, Mohamed ElBaradei, and a number of smaller leftist, liberal group along with representatives of the Brotherhood meeting Mr. Suleiman.
The move in Egypt seemed to reflect a wider regional acknowledgement of the Brotherhood’s influence. On Thursday, King Abdullah II of Jordan, struggling to stave off growing public discontent, also met with his own country’s representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood for the first time in nearly a decade.
The development came a day after American officials said Mr. Suleiman had promised them an “orderly transition” that would include constitutional reform and outreach to opposition groups.
“That takes some time,” Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said, speaking at a Munich security conference. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.”
But the formal endorsement came as Mr. Suleiman appeared to reject the protesters’ main demands, including the immediate resignation of Mr. Mubarak and the dismantling of a political system built around one-party rule, according to leaders of a small, officially authorized opposition party who spoke with Mr. Suleiman on Saturday. Instead of loosening its grip, moreover, the authorities appeared to be consolidating their power: The prime minister said police forces were returning to the streets, and an army general urged protesters to scale back their occupation of Tahrir Square.
Protesters interpreted the simultaneous moves by the Western leaders and Mr. Suleiman as a rebuff to their demands for an end to the dictatorship led for almost three decades by Mr. Mubarak, a pivotal American ally and pillar of the existing order in the Middle East.
“What the are saying behind closed doors, they are backing Mubarak,” said Noha el-Shakawy, 52, a pharmacist with dual Egyptian and American citizenship. “We are nothing to them. The United States wants to sacrifice all of our lives, 85 million people.”
On Sunday — the first day of the working week — Cairo seemed to be re-assuming some of the trappings of normalcy.
Some banks reopened for several hours after a week of closures, with limits on withdrawals by customers who stood in line to access their accounts. The city’s notoriously rambunctious traffic began to rebuild across bridges over the Nile that had been access routes to Tahrir Square for pro-democracy protesters and their adversaries.
But tanks remained in position on the square itself and an overnight curfew was still technically in force. Reporters in the city said foreigners risked being stopped at night-time road-blocks and some had been threatened with arrest as spies. www.wdalaw.com On Sunday — the Christian holy day — Muslim and Coptic prayers resounded over Tahrir Square in what seemed a show of interfaith harmony just weeks after a suicide bomber killed at least 21 people as a New Year’s Eve Mass was ending in Alexandria. In the past, some members of the Coptic minority have accused their leaders of reluctance to confront the state.