US to Jewish leaders: We won't recognize Muslim Brotherhod

Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk says it will be "extremely difficult to exclude group from political process in Egypt."

Cairo protesters freedom signs 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Cairo protesters freedom signs 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON – The White House is seeking to reassure Jewish leaders concerned about the turmoil in Egypt, telling them in a conference call late Wednesday that US policy is not to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many in the pro-Israel community have been concerned that the waning position of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his regime will empower the Muslim Brotherhood and are fearful that the US could contribute to its rise by viewing the Islamic group as a legitimate Egyptian political player.
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On Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that “it is clear that increasing democratic representation has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors,” and since then US officials have given varying signs on their openness to seeing the Muslim Brotherhood take part in a coalition government.
At the same time, the US has increased its calls for Mubarak to oversee a transition immediately, and for the installment of a widely representative democratic governance system.
On a call to Jewish organizational officials, senior Middle East National Security Council adviser Dan Shapiro said US policy is not to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has ties to Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization, according to participants in the off-therecord call.
But Shapiro also indicated that the US would not dictate the composition of the next Egyptian government.
Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and now the vice president of the Brookings Institution, pointed out that America’s options for dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood are limited given its strong role in the Egyptian political scene, and that its participation in a new government in some capacity might be inevitable.
“It’s a very risky proposition, but that’s the world that we now live in, in which the Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful [institution], and it will be extremely difficult to exclude it from the political process,” he said.
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, who joined Indyk in a discussion on the Egyptian turmoil Thursday, said that while the Muslim Brotherhood would pose challenges to the US given its stance on the peace process, counter-terrorism, minority rights and other issues, right now the group is planning to have a low political profile.
“Up until now the Brotherhood has played a very limited role. They have not been very visible in the protests, but that’s by design,” he said. “The Brotherhood is well aware that if they have a prominent role, this will stoke the fears of the international community and particularly the US, so the Brotherhood is sensitive about that.”
The group does plan to become more active but is emphasizing that it doesn’t plan to take a leadership role and will instead support a coalition led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN International Atomic Energy Agency head, according to Hamid.
Some members of the Brotherhood have been so concerned about a backlash that they have made a statement to “allay some fears,” saying they would abide by the peace treaty with Israel, Hamid added. He noted, however, that many question the sincerity of such statements.
“I think we have to recognize that they aren’t extremists like in Iran or elsewhere. In terms of what their objectives are here, they aren’t going to try to win an election even if they could,” he said, suggesting that the group instead would focus on rebuilding the organization after years of repression. “They are aware this would either provoke the regime or provoke the international community.”