Distrust of government threatens talks in Egypt

CAIRO — Hopes for a road map on how to bring political reform to Egypt faded Monday, with anti-government activists casting doubt on the legitimacy of talks and thousands of protesters entering their third week in the heart of the nation's capital.

Many activists showed little confidence the government would follow through with a pledge announced by Vice President Omar Suleiman to clamp down on corruption, widen press freedoms, lift emergency law when conditions warrant and form a committee to amend the constitution — landmark concessions for Egypt. Instead, they insisted that President Hosni Mubarak could not remain in power.

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group announced they will not continue any dialogue unless the demands lodged by Tahrir Square protesters for an end to Egypt's repressive military regime are met. Members of the group had been the most significant anti-government presence at weekend meetings with government officials, which did not include several well-known opposition leaders.

"We support the demands of the people. At the top of these demands is the stepping down of President Mubarak ... before the end of this week, not September," Issam al-Aryan, a member of the brotherhood's executive bureau, told reporters.

Longtime opposition leader Ayman Nour, who was jailed for four years after running against Mubarak for president in 2005, said the government is deceiving Egyptians. In an interview, he said government officials' talks with certain opposition groups, prominent academics, young protest organizers and businessmen were an attempt to placate demonstrators without inviting significant members of the opposition, including Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed Elbaradei, or taking genuine steps at constitutional reform or removing Mubarak from power.

"The government is not really interested in dialogue. It did not hold any talks with the competition or possible candidates who could run against it in September," Nour said.

While the Muslim Brotherhood is a significant movement in Egypt, it was not allowed to enter the talks until its leaders agreed the group would not run in the presidential elections, he said.

"That's why Elbaradei and I were not invited. The government met with small opposition parties that were founded with the blessing of the state. They're the puppet opposition.... The people won't stop until the revolution is complete."

The capital continued to stagger back to its feet Monday, with the nighttime curfew shaved back to 8 p.m. and more and more Egyptians back at work.

But as newly reopened banks linked for the first time with international traders, the Egyptian pound sank to its lowest level in three years, and there were worsening economic fears from a crisis that is costing the country an estimated $310 million a day.