Egypt's war of words between the ruling generals and Islamists who paraded their popular strength on the streets on Friday may be resolved by discreet negotiations going on between the two old enemies behind the scenes.
Senior figures on both sides told Reuters they had several meetings during a past week marked by confrontation over moves by the army before and after the presidential election which opponents said were aimed at entrenching military rule.
A further meeting, as early as Saturday, may be followed by an announcement of the election result — the Muslim Brotherhood claims it has won. A compromise may help pull protesters off the streets and usher in a new phase of the wary power-sharing that has marked Egypt's passage from revolution to democracy.
Such an outcome would probably be welcomed by the United States, the long-time sponsor of the army during decades of military rule under Hosni Mubarak, which has called on the army to honour a promise of civilian government but shares some of its fears about handing untrammelled power to the Islamists.
"We have met with them to discuss how to get out of this crisis after Parliament was dissolved and the new president's powers curbed," Khairat al-Shater, who runs the Brotherhood's finances and strategic planning, told Reuters late on Thursday.
"But the generals feel they are the proprietors of power and have not yet reached a level of real compromise."
Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which took sovereign power from Mubarak, confirmed the recent meetings and repeated the army's commitment to a democratic transition.
But he echoed a strong statement issued by the SCAF on Friday as the Islamists packed Cairo's Tahrir Square. It rejected the Brotherhood's call for the cancellation of a 17 June decree that gave extra powers to the military council after the election of a civilian president and said it was necessary for the interim.
"The constitutional decree is the exclusive authority of the military council," Shaheen told Reuters, also late on Thursday.
That decree followed the dissolution of a parliament elected in January with an Islamist majority. The army says its move was dictated by judges who found that some voting rules had been unconstitutional. By decree, the SCAF took over legislative power until a new constitution is in force, effectively limiting the new president's ability to rule without military approval.
[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]