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Egyptian Military Calls for Dialogue Between Polarized Groups for Reconciliation

December 11, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Facing heightened tensions between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo, the Egyptian military called for unity talks before a draft constitution goes to a national vote. Ray Suarez talks to Financial Times' Borzou Daragahi about the polarization between groups in the country that have different ideas for Egypt's future.
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: And I’m joined by Borzou Daragahi, Middle East and North Africa correspondent for The Financial Times.

Welcome to the program.

Just a few days after President Morsi asked the army to restore peace to the streets of Egypt, the head of the military has called for national reconciliation dialogue. What’s going on?

BORZOU DARAGAHI, The Financial Times: Well, there’s a couple different possibilities.

One is that you’re seeing a little bit of the army reentering the scene. Viewers may recall that just a few months ago, President Morsi made a dramatic move against the army and got them somewhat out of politics, at least visibly.

On the other hand, this could also be something that Morsi himself had suggested in an attempt to ease tensions, to bring the opposition to the table. So far, Morsi has said that he will attend these talks tomorrow afternoon, but the opposition says they’re still debating.

RAY SUAREZ: The face-offs between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi forces on the streets of the country seem to be escalating. Have we reached a point of no return? Can these two groups even talk to each other any longer?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: You raise a very good point.

The polarization in this country right now is somewhat unprecedented between the two Egypts, as people are calling it, the secular, liberal, more diverse Egypt, and the rising Islamist juggernaut that seems to be changing the face of Egypt and much of the rest of North Africa.

On these sides, there’s a lot of mistrust. There’s a lot of anger. There’s a lot of suspicion, I would even call it paranoia, on the part of each side. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of — like a lot of common ground between these two sides.

On the other hand, there might be some kind of resolution to this if the liberal forces are able to get their act together politically and field a credible field of candidates for upcoming parliamentary elections and are able to exert their own will and amend this constitution that they seem to despise so much.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, meanwhile, the constitutional referendum is approaching amid calls for a boycott, amid judges saying they won’t oversee the elections.

Is this thing going to come off, and is it going to give a result that’s not ambiguous?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Yes, I think the absence of the judges is going to really harm the credibility and the transparency of the whole process.

Who will vouch to the public that the elections were free and fair? I think it’s going to — whatever the outcome of the election, the losing side can credibly say that, hey, this wasn’t a normal election.

In a way, it’s kind of sad because, you know, the results of the election aside, we have had a whole bunch of elections in Egypt over the last couple years, and each one seemed to, at least on election day, bring people together in a spirit of democracy and patriotism.

And this one seems to be driving people further apart.

RAY SUAREZ: In the midst of all is still a new president, Mohammed Morsi, getting his arms and the job, or is he being swept along by the tide of events? Is he someone who really has authority in this country?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think he has — him and his organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, have a lot of authority with a certain segment of the society, a certain rather large segment of the society. The Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized group in the country.

And its Islamist allies also seem to have their act together as far as getting numbers out for elections and out into the streets. But among the — and this is kind of the problem with the polarization.

He doesn’t have a lot of authority, even though he was democratically elected, with those who are opposed to his most recent moves. And even some people who voted for him in recent elections have turned against him in a very harsh way.

RAY SUAREZ: Borzou Daragahi of The Financial Times, thanks for joining us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You can see more images from today’s protests in Tahrir Square, including the efforts to storm a blockade in front of the presidential palace. The photo essay is on our home page.