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White House Defends Meetings with Muslim Brotherhood

Kent Klein

The Obama administration is defending its Thursday meetings with members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political party. Officials say the United States is engaging with a variety of Egypt’s emerging political actors.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood met with mid-level officials from the U.S. National Security Council.

On Wednesday, he described the officials in the meeting as "low-level."

Carney told reporters on Thursday that it is important for the administration to meet with many Egyptian political groups, as the country’s political situation evolves after last year’s overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

"In the aftermath of Egypt's revolution, we have broadened our engagement to include new and emerging political parties and actors.  Because it is a fact that Egypt's political landscape has changed and the actors have become more diverse, and our engagement reflects that," Carney said.

Carney said he did not have information on the substance of the meetings.  He also had no word on whether further meetings would be scheduled, but said he expected the dialogue to continue.

The president's spokesman gave assurances that great emphasis was placed on democracy and human rights.

"The Muslim Brotherhood will be a major player, and we are engaging because that is the appropriate and right thing to do.  And we will judge all of the political actors in Egypt by their actions, by their commitment to democracy and democratic processes and protection of civil rights," Carney said.

The Muslim Brotherhood is one of five Middle Eastern Islamist political parties taking part in meetings with U.S. officials in Washington as well as a conference organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Marina Ottaway, a Middle East expert at the Endowment, who helped to organize the conference, says U.S. officials are trying to learn more about the Brotherhood.

"Until the overthrow of Mubarak, the United States had an expressed policy of not talking to the Muslim Brotherhood because the Egyptian government was opposed to talking to the Muslim Brotherhood.  So it is only in the last few months, essentially, that the United States has started talking to the Muslim Brothers," she said.

Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.  He says the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to reassure officials in Washington that it shares their commitment to democracy, civil rights and stability.

"There is a recognition across the board in the U.S., and this really is across the Republican-Democrat [U.S. political] divide, and that is that Egypt is very important for the U.S.  It has been an anchor of American foreign policy in the Middle East.  The stability of the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement is so important," Telhami said.

Telhami says that another reason U.S. officials have decided to talk to the Muslim Brotherhood is the rise of Egypt’s more conservative Islamist groups.

"To everyone’s surprise, the threat to the Muslim Brotherhood ended up being less from the liberals and more from the more conservative Salafis, including their presidential candidate, who is doing far better than anyone would have expected a few weeks ago.  And so, in that sense, the Muslim Brotherhood looks a little bit more moderate, I think," Telhami said.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s presidential election commission has disqualified one Islamist candidate because his mother was an American citizen.  Hazem Abu Ismail, a lawyer and preacher, was disqualified under a law that says candidates, their spouses and parents must hold only Egyptian citizenship.  

Ismail used anti-U.S. rhetoric in his campaign speeches, and his departure from the race is expected to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood.

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by: Mohammad Goldstein
April 14, 2012 4:13 PM
So why not Reach Out To Cuba? The actions behind politicians are easily exposed. President Obama has a copy of my book and so does every Senator and Congressman in Washington. I think the American people are waking up to a new way to take America back. "The Plot to Overthrow" is becoming a reality!

by: Tracy
April 08, 2012 12:05 PM
So...who are the others..the administration has reached out to?

by: Jasmine Opperman
April 06, 2012 5:22 PM
Is it so difficult for the USA to realise that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are eroding Al-Queda support bases in the Middle East, whereby majority support for change is not by means of terrorism. Demands are to be ruled by governments that is legitimate, based on political, economic and religious contextual realities. Sounds like democracy, doesn't it - but try to explain that to the West!!!!!!!!!!!!!

by: nasser el abed rahman
April 06, 2012 4:06 PM
the White house is doing mistake after mistake in middle East. as the result,the situation get worst .if the white house does not know the mentality of these fanatic,why is interfering and met with them .is the white house believe that by meeting with them the fanatic and support of terrorism will vanish. this is absurd Little knowlege is very dangerious

by: Patricia Spell
April 06, 2012 3:39 PM
I think the only thing keeping God from judging this nation, is our support of Israel. I see the Lord turning His back on us as a nation. He will never abandon Believer's, It is not the meek Jesus, that is coming back, but the Warrior King, as for me, I am ready to meet Him!

by: Reggie
April 06, 2012 3:26 PM
Don't groups like these suppress women's basic rights (and we're not talking about buying birth control)? Yet this administration has no problem dealing with them. Why doesn't Obama tell them how they should properly treat women and tell the world how they are anti-women? He has no problem telling the Catholic Church what they should be doing. Oh that's right, that won't buy him any votes here.

by: Gab to President Obama
April 06, 2012 12:03 PM
The West , to include the United States, has always done business with dictators and autocrats in the Middle East, otherwise you could not do any business. But we will not do business with a hostile Islamic regime. Not any more. So President Obama should meet with them and make it clear. We are already Egypt's biggest trading partner. If they want that to continue, they will have to agree to a few things.

by: AJP
April 06, 2012 10:29 AM
We know Obama promised Russia that he would abandon our missile defense after his "re-election". What do you think he promised to do for the Muslim Brotherhood after 78% of the Jewish population help, again, to re-elect him??? Israel are you listening????

by: Lesha page
April 06, 2012 8:09 AM
I call for you to resign this minute! How dare you condone these radical people's action by even meeting with. They are VERY anti-Isreal. Despite what you say WE ARE STILL A CHRISTIAN NATION. I am ashamed of you Mr. Obama! Of course I don't know why I am surprised it goes right along with the rest of your embarrassing presidency!

by: Dee Smith
April 05, 2012 9:28 PM
Obama is trash. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
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