Steny Hoyer meets in Cairo with Muslim Brotherhood leader

Thursday, April 12, 2007

CAIRO The United States has been quietly holding a dialogue with the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

On April 5, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer met a Brotherhood leader twice. One meeting was at Egypt's parliament, where the Brotherhood controls about 20 percent of the 454 seats, and the other was at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Francis Ricciardone.

Western diplomats and Brotherhood sources said American officials have been meeting members of the Islamic opposition in Alexandria and Cairo. They said the meetings, which focused on the positions of the Brotherhood and the future of Egypt, have usually taken place at the U.S. embassy, consulate or in the home of the American ambassador, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The Brotherhood plays a major role in Egypt's political landscape and cannot be ignored," a Western diplomat said. "On the other hand, these talks have to be handled delicately so as not to anger the government."

"It's our diplomatic practice around the world to meet with parliamentarians, be they members of political parties or independents," U.S. embassy spokesman John Berry said.

[On Monday, officials said an Egyptian security court extended its remand of five Brotherhood leaders. One of the detainees was identified as Hassan Malik, regarded as a key financier of the Islamic opposition movement.]

The diplomats said U.S. officials and representatives have exploited a range of opportunities to meet Brotherhood members. They cited U.S. embassy receptions for members of the Egyptian parliament as well as with the political opposition.

Brotherhood spokesman Hamdi Hassan said Hoyer met the chairman of the Brotherhood caucus in parliament, Mohammed Saad Katatni. Hassan said Hoyer and Katatni discussed the Brotherhood vision of Egypt and the Middle East as well as the opposition movement in the country.

"The Brotherhood not only has reservations on dialogue with the Americans, but rejects the unfair American policy in the region," the Brotherhood's website, in reporting the meetings, said.

Diplomats said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refused to meet Brotherhood leaders during her visits to Egypt. But they said Ms. Rice has allowed U.S. diplomats to do so.

"I think the idea is to present a somewhat balanced policy," the diplomat said. "On one hand, the United States has hardly protested the Egyptian regime crackdown on the Brotherhood and the rest of the opposition. On the other hand, it's clear that the State Department wants to stress that the Brotherhood is a player."

Copyright 2007 East West Services, Inc.

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