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The Riddle of Egypt

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According to some accounts, that American tourist who never got to see the pyramids closeup might get that return all-expenses paid air fare, promised on network television by an Egyptian official, in the mail any day now.

Some reports of Sunday’s first-ever public meeting between pro-democracy activists and President Mubarak’s government said the two sides made significant progress in ending a 14-day protest that has left at least 300 dead.

That certainly was the government view. And headlines in some mainstream media talked of the government agreeing to major demands. But Al Jazeera, the BBC and others said that all that had been discussed was a plan for a study of constitutional changes, and tens of thousands of protesters remained in Liberation Square in a tense atmosphere.

“We cannot call it talks or negotiations. The Muslim Brotherhood went with a key condition that cannot be abandoned … that he [Mubarak] needs to step down in order to usher in a democratic phase,” Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh of the Muslim Brotherhood told Al Jazeera. “If they were serious, the parliament would have been dissolved, also a presidential decree ending the emergency law,” he said.

“Our demands are still the same,” senior Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian said. “They didn’t respond to most of our demands. They only responded to some of our demands, but in a superficial way” the BBC reported. The group and other opposition groups say they want Mubarak to resign immediately, emergency laws lifted, parliament dissolved and all political prisoners released.

One thing the meeting did seem to accomplish, according to Le Monde, was to unite the opposition groups for the first time. Even U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. would adopt a “wait and see attitude,” although to know the real American position we’ll probably have to wait a year or two for Wikileaks to tell us. Leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, criticized the talks. “Nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage,” he said.

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