Congress wary of Muslim Brotherhood role in Egypt

Defense Minister Barak holds meetings in Washington with top officials to discuss Cairo crisis.

Egypt tanks_311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Egypt tanks_311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
WASHINGTON – Members of Congress warned about the risk posed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in a new Egyptian government Wednesday and scolded the Obama administration for suggesting an openness to the Islamic group having some role in its composition.
“The Muslim Brotherhood had nothing to do with driving these protests, and they and other extremists must not be allowed to hijack the movement toward democracy and freedom in Egypt,” declared Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, at the start of a hearing Wednesday.
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Ros-Lehtinen referred specifically to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’s statement last week that a more representative Egyptian government should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors,” and reports that the White House was reexamining its position on dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Gibbs said Wednesday that he was not “aware of” any contacts between US officials and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood as America was reaching out to opposition groups pushing for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and broad democratic reforms.
“I am skeptical about the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to democracy,” said Howard Berman, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking member, at Wednesday’s hearing, pointing to the group’s past use of violence and former members who were involved with al-Qaida.
Despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s pronounced commitment to democratic rule, Berman stressed, “even if that’s true, we shouldn’t fool ourselves.”
Even in a democratic government, he warned, “there is every reason to believe it will try to influence the Egyptian government in ways that undermine US interests and that will make Egypt a regressive, less-tolerant place.”
The hearing was held as Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with members on Capitol Hill as part of a visit to Washington and New York.
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These were the first highlevel discussions between the two countries since the eruption of the crisis in Egypt, a major topic addressed by the two sides.
Barak was also scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in a three-way White House conversation.
Ahead of the meeting, Gibbs said the consultations were “regularly scheduled meetings,” but declined to address their substance.
On Capitol Hill, Barak met with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House foreign operations appropriations subcommittee.
The subcommittee has jurisdiction over aid for Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and other Middle East countries, much of which has been thrown into doubt by recent events in the region as well as Republican members’ stated desire to cut the budget.