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Egypt and Brotherhood should pursue reconciliation: minister

Army soldiers take positions as Al-Azhar University student members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mo
Army soldiers take positions as Al-Azhar University student members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mo

By Michael Georgy

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's army-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood should seek reconciliation because only an inclusive political process, not security crackdowns, can bring stability to the country, a senior minister said on Tuesday.

The most populous Arab state has been shaken by violence since the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood in July and announced a plan for new elections.

Security forces have killed hundreds of Brotherhood members and jailed thousands, including Mursi, who is due to appear in court on Monday on charges of inciting violence.

Yet street protests regularly erupt and Islamist militants have intensified their attacks.

Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din has been trying to encourage both sides to compromise since he put an initiative to the cabinet in August.

"Security is essential and key to Egypt but it is not alone going to get us where we want, and there has to be a political framework as well," Bahaa El-Din told reporters.

"Ultimately this country needs to move towards a framework, of a political accord of some sort. It needs a political framework that is more inclusive for everybody."

His proposal called for an immediate end to the state of emergency, political participation for all parties and the guarantee of human rights, including free assembly.

But Bahaa El-Din's mission will not be easy.

State-run media have whipped up public opinion against the Brotherhood and created a climate in which there is little tolerance for the Islamist movement that won every election since a popular uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

And the security clampdown has only hardened the Brotherhood's position.

Bahaa El-Din's views are often at odds with the interior minister and other hardliners in the government who dismiss the Brotherhood as a terrorist group that cannot be trusted.

He expressed hope a political compromise could be reached, even though the Brotherhood's top leaders are in jail and say that, as a peaceful movement, they see no need to renounce violence, a key demand made by the government in the past.

"The fact that some or most or all of the leadership is in jail, I don't think that alone prevents them from taking a step forward and saying 'we are willing to give a sign that we will abandon this path (of violence) and join the roadmap'," he said.

Bahaa El-Din said the Brotherhood had "a huge impact on the perpetuation and continuation of violence" and should pursue politics instead. He did not elaborate.

Nearly daily street protests, clashes between supporters and opponents of Mursi and rising attacks by Islamist groups that security officials link to the Brotherhood have hammered tourism and investment in Egypt, a strategic U.S. ally.

Bahaa El-Din predicted Egypt's economy could withstand the upheaval, but expressed hopes that economic growth would climb to 7 percent once the political turbulence eased.

Egypt had several years of growth of around seven percent before the 2011 revolt.

"It will continue to grow 2 to 3 percent per year. But I wish we could do better," he said. "Egypt, like any other country, can live with a certain level of instability."

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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