U.S. shifts to closer contact with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

June 30, 2011

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a news conference in Budapest June 30, 2011/Bernadett Szabo)

The United States will resume limited contacts with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed on Thursday, saying it was in Washington’s interests to deal with parties committed to non-violent politics. While Clinton portrayed the administration’s decision as a continuation of an earlier policy, it reflects a subtle shift in that U.S. officials will be able to deal directly with officials of the Islamist movement who are not members of parliament.

The move, first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, is likely to upset Israel and its U.S. supporters who have deep misgivings about the Brotherhood, a group founded in 1928 that seeks to promote its conservative vision of Islam in society. Under president Hosni Mubarak, a key U.S. ally, the Brotherhood was formally banned, but since the ousting of the secular former general by a popular uprising in February, the Islamists are seen as a major force in forthcoming elections.

“We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful, and committed to non-violence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency,” Clinton told reporters at a news conference in Budapest.

“Now in any of those contacts, prior or future, we will continue to emphasize the importance of and support for democratic principles and especially a commitment to non-violence, respect for minority rights, and the full inclusion of women in any democracy,” she added.

Clinton would not say whether the Obama administration had already begun such contacts or at what level it planned to deal with the group.

In Cairo, a spokesman for the Islamist group said it would welcome any formal contacts with the United States as a way to clarify its vision, but no such contacts have yet been made.

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