As the government-in-waiting, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood finds its voice

February 28, 2012

Newly elected speaker of the Egyptian parliament Mohamed Saad al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood speaks during the first session of the newly-elected assembly in Cairo January 23, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled Elfiqi/Pool

At the end of January, a guest speaker drew an unusually large audience of diplomats to the 33rd floor auditorium at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Cairo. For latecomers, there was standing room only.

What made the event unique wasn’t the turnout, but the speaker: Mohamed Morsy, a leading figure in the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, had come to outline his group’s vision of Egypt’s place in the world.

“One year ago, it was unthinkable. But a lot of things were unthinkable in Egypt one year ago,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Amr Roshdy, recounting Morsy’s address in the Foreign Ministry tower on the banks of the river Nile.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr did not have time to attend – he was busy with a foreign dignitary. But he caught Morsy on his way out of the building and invited him to his office for a coffee. They chatted for an hour.

Under President Hosni Mubarak, Morsy’s political views could have landed him in jail. But today he heads the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the biggest party in parliament, which has started to make its voice heard in the corridors of power even before it has assumed any executive office.

There have been some results: the group says its lobbying led the Foreign Ministry to toughen Egypt’s stance towards President Bashar al-Assad over his attempts to crush the uprising in Syria – a tangible impact on an area of policy that was once the personal realm of Mubarak.

“If you want to influence the next government’s policy, you need to talk to the Brotherhood, and you need to talk to them in depth,” a Western diplomat based in Cairo, who declined to be named, said.

Read the full story by Tom Perry and Edmund Blair here.
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