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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: syaed el gasgl
April 05, 2012 6:38 PM
it seems to me that obama administration does not understand. muslim brotherhood are planning to seize the power by liar ..they purpose is to establish an islamic state to prosecute christain and impose most barberic law the islamivclaw which woman can be stonned.. aconvert from islam is a capital punshment

by: last american standing
April 05, 2012 6:18 PM
open your eyes people.. cant you see what's going on?

by: Deborah J. Boyd
April 05, 2012 5:59 PM
Peace will never be attained via war. Negotiating is more likely to obtain Peace on Earth. Those people that make money producing weapons are not inclined to want Peace.

by: Jerryball
April 05, 2012 5:51 PM
The old adage still applies: "Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer."

by: Mervin Williams
April 05, 2012 5:36 PM
When We Have The Most Liberal President In History,Nothing He Does Surprises Me.

by: amos33
April 05, 2012 5:32 PM
The Muslim Brotherhood are the same group that gave us Al Qaeda and Hamas and want to sever all ties with Israel. Why are we doing this?

by: charlie
April 05, 2012 5:27 PM
Who is the White House having to defend doing its' job against? Zionists and their US lobby, i.e. our pathetically paid for Congress, and terrified media?

by: Daniel J Philbin
April 05, 2012 4:30 PM
The Muslim Brotherhood met with the "National Security Agency"? Somebody messed up. I think the author meant the "National Security Council." This is what happens when we all resort to spell check, then forget it.

by: itsallgoodnow7
April 05, 2012 4:28 PM
I do find it amusing that during the “Arab Spring”, the Obama administration assured us that the Muslim Brotherhood would not be a player in the rebuilding of Egypt. Just goes to show you how Obama has no clue about foreign policy.

by: Thomas Nelson
April 05, 2012 4:20 PM
Daily we see evidence of the decline of the American empire. I recall a few short years ago, when a US Assistant Attorney General in a private discussion indicated that the Muslim Brotherhood was the fount of all evil in the Islamic world - all Islamic militancy could be traced back to the feared Brotherhood. Now, after Mubarak the puppet falls, we hear a revised assessment of the Brotherhood, one more comporting with reality.
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