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February 6, 2011

Egypt panel ‘to study constitutional reform’: BBC

The BBC’s Jim Muir: “Protesters blocked the army from advancing into Tahrir Square and spent the night sleeping under the tracks of tanks”

Egypt’s opposition groups – including the banned Muslim Brotherhood – have given a wary response after landmark talks with the government on how to end the country’s political crisis.

The meeting followed 13 days of street protests calling on President Hosni Mubarak to resign.

Opposition groups told the BBC they were sceptical about the government’s good faith.

Meanwhile, many banks opened for the first time in a week.

Long queues formed as people waited to withdraw money.

Tens of thousands have again joined demonstrations in Cairo and other cities, calling for democratic reforms.

President Mubarak has refused to resign immediately, saying that to do so would cause chaos and has said instead that he will not stand for re-election in September.

State of emergency
Mr Suleiman was hosting the talks on Sunday along with a number of opposition parties, including Wafd and Tagammu, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian State TV said the participants had agreed to form a joint committee of judicial and political figures tasked with suggesting constitutional amendments.

However, the Brotherhood said the talks would only continue if the government makes progress on meeting its demands.

Deputy leader Rashad Mohammed el-Bayoumy said these included “the immediate removal of this regime, beginning with Hosni Mubarak; the lifting of the emergency laws that we have been living under for more than thirty years… Dissolving the parliament, which is in place only as a result of blatant election rigging; and finally, the release of all political prisoners.”

The BBC’s Jon Leyne, in Cairo, says opposition members and a group of so-called “wise men” who were also there told him they were sceptical of the government’s moves.

It was the first time the government and the long-banned Brotherhood have held talks.

However, another key opposition figure – former UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei – was absent.

Economic woes
The participants also rejected foreign interference in Egypt’s affairs and said they would work towards the peaceful transition of power, the state news reports said.

Mr Suleiman had invited the groups last week, telling the Muslim Brotherhood it was a “valuable opportunity”.

The Brotherhood had previously said it would not take part in the negotiations.

The Islamist group is Egypt’s most influential and well-organised opposition but it remains officially banned and its members and leaders have been subject to frequent repression.

Mr Mubarak has blamed it for the unrest and said that if he leaves, the group will exploit the ensuing political chaos.

The Muslim Brotherhood denies accusations that it is seeking to create an Islamist state in Egypt.

Earlier, hundreds of bank branches across the country and in Cairo opened at 1000 local time (0800 GMT).

Long queues formed at some for the brief opening period – the banks closed again at 1330 local time.

The central bank has released some of its $36bn (£22bn) in official foreign reserves to cover withdrawals, amid fears Egyptians would be panicked into taking out their savings.

Deputy central bank governor Hisham Ramez has said he is confident all transactions will be honoured.

The government is seeking to revive an economy said to be losing at least $310m (£192m) a day.

Many shops, factories and the stock exchange have been closed for days, and basic goods have been running short.

Correspondents say many Egyptians have been wondering how quickly daily life will return to normal regardless of the outcome of the struggle for power.

But they also say there is no let-up in the magnitude of the protests in Tahrir Square, and the mood is almost back to the festival atmosphere of the first few days, with many families and young children in attendance.

Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt talks: Al Jazeera online

Opposition group says it is sticking to condition that Hosni Mubarak step down, as about a million protest in Cairo.

The government says “stability” is returning, as about a million people rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square [GALLO/GETTY]
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has held talks with the government aimed at ending the country’s political crisis, but one of the group’s leaders has told Al Jazeera that it does not trust the authorities to follow through on promised reforms.

The developments came as pro-democracy rallies continued across the country on Sunday – the 13th day of protests in the country.

About a million people were reported to be observing a “day of the martyrs” in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the focal point of the protests – calling for an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. An Al Jazeera correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin, who was at the square, was arrested by the military on Sunday afternoon.

Both Muslims and Christians held prayers at the square for the victims of the uprising.

Thousands of protesters also gathered in the cities of Alexandria and Mahalla. In other parts of the country, banks and shops began to reopen as normal life was seen to be resuming.

Egyptian state television said Omar Suleiman, the country’s newly appointed vice-president, began meetings with prominent independent and mainstream opposition figures on Saturday to go through the options, which centre on how to ensure free and fair presidential elections while sticking to the constitution.

The Egyptian president, in a televised address on Tuesday, said he would not seek re-election in September but refused to step down immediately, fearing “chaos”.

Brotherhood talks
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has played down the opposition’s talks with Suleiman, saying that it is not prepared to drop its central demand of calling for Mubarak to resign as president.

“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 Monim Abo al-Fotoh, a member of the MB, told Al Jazeera.

The MB was one of several groups taking part in Sunday’s talks. Other participants included members of secular opposition parties, independent legal experts and business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, attendees said.

A representative of Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition figure, was also in attendance.

Al-Fotoh described the meeting as testing the waters for what concessions the government was prepared to make.

He said he “did not see any … seriousness so far. They [the government] have failed to take concrete measurement on the ground.

“If they were serious, the parliament would have been dissolved, also a presidential decree ending the emergency law”.

He said that articles 77, 78 and 88 of the constitution should also have been amended by now.

Al-Fotoh was referring to an article of the constitution covering presidential elections, which now effectively puts Mubarak’s governing NDP party in a position to choose the next president, and another that allows the president to run for unlimited presidential terms.

He said the Muslim Brotherhood “does not seek power” and will not be fielding a candidate for president in elections.

He asserted that the organisation was not prepared to step back from its demand for Mubarak’s departure, saying that if it did, the move would be a “betrayal of the martyrs who have died in the these protests”.

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, cautiously welcomed the inclusion of the MB in talks, but said Washington would “wait and see” what results the dialogue yields.

A proposal being promoted by a group of Egyptians calling itself the The Council of Wise Men involves Suleiman assuming presidential powers for an interim period pending elections.

But some opposition figures argue that would mean the next presidential election would be held under the same unfair conditions as in previous years.

They want to first form a new parliament to change the constitution to pave the way for a presidential vote that is democratic.

Announcement due
Issam al-Aryan, a leading Muslim Brotherhood member, said that the organisation will hold a news conference on Sunday evening to announce what was discussed in the meeting with Suleiman.

Both he and Mohammed Mursi, another senior leader, said that the group will be sticking to its demand that Mubarak resign.

An Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo described the news of the MB joining the talks as “highly significant”.

“They are interested in talking about the resignation of president Mubarak,” he said. “They want parliament resolved, they want those responsible for violence of the last few days put on trial … and wanting to be able to peacefully protest.”

Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Alexandria – one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strongholds – says many people are surprised by the group’s decision to enter talks.

He said it is a major concession that might be seen as a “weakness” in the sense that the MB did not stick to its stated position against joining negotiations until Mubarak resigns.

Cherif Bassiouni, president of the Egyptian American Society and a former UN human rights expert, said the MB has already proved itself to be a responsible participant in Egypt’s legislative process.

“They participated in the 2005 legislative elections. They elected 88 members to the parliament. So they’ve had a role in the secular parliament,” Bassiouni said.

The government tried to get people back to work on Sunday, with banks and businesses reopening in the first clear test of how far protesters can keep up the momentum to topple the government.

But the protesters vowed not to back down in their demand for Mubarak to step down.

“They are steadfast and very sure in their aims and refuse to move,” an Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo said.

Mass resignations
The leadership of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) resigned en masse on Saturday, according to state television.

Hossam Badrawi was appointed the new secretary-general of the party, replacing Safwat El-Sherif, a Mubarak loyalist, in that post. Badrawi, seen by many as a liberal voice in the NDP, will also replace Gamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak’s son, as head of the party’s policies bureau.

Other new appointees include: Mohamed Ragah Ahmed, Mohamed Ahmed Abd El-Illah, Maged Mahmoud Younes El-Shirbiny, Mohamed Ahmed Abd El-Salam Hebah and Dr Mohamed Mostafa Kamal, according to an NDP press release.

Officials in the US administration welcomed the resignation of Gamal Mubarak, terming it a “positive” move.

But the administration has continued to insist upon an orderly and peaceful transition in Egypt.

Frank Wisner, who has acted as a White House envoy by carrying a message to Mubarak, said on Saturday that Mubarak “must stay in office to steer” a process of gathering “national consensus around the preconditions” for the way forward.

PJ Crowley, the US state department’s spokesman, said, however, that Wisner was speaking as a private citizen, and that his views did not represent those of the US government.

Ex-Israeli soldier admits leaking secret military files: BBC

During her military service, Anat Kamm worked as a clerk in the office of an army general
Continue reading the main story

A former Israeli soldier has admitted leaking secret military information to a newspaper.

Anat Kamm pleaded guilty in return for the prosecution dropping more serious charges, which included spying and harming state security.

According to the charges, she passed more than 2,000 documents to the daily Haaretz newspaper.

Kamm, 24, will be sentenced at a later date and faces a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.

The Tel Aviv District Court heard that between 2005 and 2007 Kamm copied secret documents from army computers while working as a clerk in the office of a general.

After leaving the army and while working for an Israeli website, she gave the documents to a reporter from Haaretz.

Haaretz later published a report about a possibly-illegal Israeli operation to kill Palestinian militants in the West Bank.

Kamm was arrested in December 2009 although her detainment was only made public four months later. She has since been under house arrest.

Kamm’s lawyer, Eitan Leman, said that the documents leaked to the Israeli journalist did not harm Israeli security.

Under the plea bargain, Kamm pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing secret information while the original charges that included harming state security were dropped.

Tel Aviv court accepts plea bargain in Anat Kamm espionage case: Haaretz

According to agreement, prosecutors will drop charge that Kamm intended to harm state security when she took classified IDF documents and passed them on to a Haaretz reporter.

The Tel Aviv District Court accepted a plea bargain on Sunday in the case of Anat Kamm, who is accused of handing secret army documents to Haaretz writer Uri Blau.

According to the indictment against Kamm, during her military service as clerk in the office of then-GOC Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, she collected about 2,000 documents, some highly classified and top-secret, and copied them to CDs and her personal computer.

The documents included plans for military operations, the minutes of internal discussions, details of the deployment of IDF forces, conclusions of internal investigations, situation assessments, target banks and more. She later delivered them to Blau, who used them in his reports.

According to the plea bargain, Kamm will not be charged with having the intention to harm the security of the state, a charge which carries with it a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

Instead, Kamm will plead guilty to possession of secret information and passing it on without permission, crimes that carry a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison.

The prosecutor in the case, Hadas Forrer-Gafni, said that she intends to ask the court for the maximum punishment for Kamm. Forrer-Gafni added that a decision regarding Blau will be made in the next few weeks.

Kamm said about her potential punishment, “In the plea bargain I admitted to the charges against me, I cannot control what the law says.”

Kamm’s lawyer, Eitan Lehman, added “It was never her intention to harm the security of the state. The state knows that the documents were only held by the two [Kamm and Blau] and all information that was leaked to the public underwent censorship.”

“There is information the public did not receive, and may not receive in the near future, because discussions are confidential,” Lehman said. “I hope the court will realize that not only was there no intention to harm the security of the state, no harm was done.”

“Kamm’s motives were good. We hope the judges will understand that the house arrest she has been under is sufficient punishment,” Lehman said.
Since her arrest, Kamm has been under house arrest in Tel Aviv. The court has rejected every request she has filed to ease the terms of her detention.

The prosecutor said about the plea bargain that it “reduces the severity of the allegations against Kamm. However, at the end of the day, this is a serious offense. The indictment still includes two very serious crimes, even if they are not as harsh as the original charges. The punishment will be served accordingly.”

“In our eyes, when an Israeli soldier takes the most confidential documents from the army, it is a very serious offense. Passing the information on to another party, even if they are a journalist, with the knowledge that the material is not being safeguarded with confidentiality, is very grave indeed,” Forrer-Gafni added.

The sentencing portion of Kamm’s trial will begin on April 11, 2011, behind closed doors.

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