Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders 311 (R).
(photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)
CAIRO - US officials met members of the Muslim Brotherhood's political
party, a US diplomat said, after Washington announced it would have
direct contacts with Egypt's biggest Islamist group whose role has grown
since US ally Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
Muslim Brotherhood text reveals scope of radical creed
Dangerously underestimating the Muslim Brotherhood
Washington announced the plans in June, portraying such contacts as the
continuation of an earlier policy. But analysts said it reflected a new
approach to the way it dealt with a group which Mubarak banned from
The Brotherhood is one of Egypt's most popular and organized groups,
with a broad grassroots network built up partly through social work even
in Mubarak's era.
The contacts may unsettle Israel and its US backers. The Brotherhood
renounced violence as a means to achieve political change in Egypt years
ago. But groups like Hamas, which have not disavowed violence, look to
the Brotherhood as a spiritual guide.
Under the previous policy, US diplomats were allowed to deal with the
Brotherhood's members of parliament who had won seats as "independents"
to skirt the official ban. This provided a diplomatic cover to keep
lines of communication open.
"We have had direct contacts with senior officials of the Freedom and
Justice party," the senior diplomat told Reuters, referring to the
Brotherhood's party that was founded after politics opened up following
the ouster of Mubarak.
The diplomat said US officials did not make a distinction between
members of the Brotherhood or its party. "We don't have a policy that
makes a distinction, that one or the other is off limits," he said,
without saying when the meetings took place.
The diplomat was responding to a question about whether any meetings had
occurred, after Freedom Justice Party Chairman Mohamed Mursi told
Egypt's Al-Dostour newspaper last week that US officials had not made
contact since the policy shift.
Speaking to Reuters on Sunday, the party deputy head Essam el-Erian also
denied any meetings had taken place with US officials when asked about
the diplomat's comments.
It was not immediately clear why the two sides gave different accounts. "High-level" meetings were held between Brotherhood members, Washington
Under the former Egyptian president, the Brotherhood was banned and its
members often detained. Mubarak often presented himself as the bulwark
preventing Egypt's slide into Islamist hands, an approach that analysts
said help secure him backing from Washington and other Western powers
wary that Egypt could turn into another Iran or Gaza.
The group took a backseat in the early part of the anti-Mubarak
uprising, which was broadly led by youth groups who put national
concerns above religion. But the Brotherhood and its party have taken a
increasingly prominent role since.
The diplomat said the US contacts had been with "high-level" members of
the Brotherhood's party but did not give names. From the US side, he
said the contacts were not at ambassadorial level but he did not give
"We had occasionally had these contacts in the past ... The difference is in the past we had seen parliamentarians," he said.
Egypt's parliament was dissolved after Mubarak's fall. Fresh elections
for the lower house are due to start in November, with a vote for the
upper house early next year.
The Brotherhood is expected to perform well in the vote, although many
analysts expect a fairly fragmented parliament with no single unified