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Washington Reaches Out to the Brotherhood

Samara Greenberg

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on Wednesday met with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), in the highest-level talks that Washington has thus far held with the victorious Islamist group after ending a long-standing ban on holding formal contacts with the Brotherhood last summer.

While the winners of the final stage of Egypt’s elections remain unknown, until now the Brotherhood’s FJP has garnered more than 40 percent of the seats that will fill the Egyptian Parliament’s lower house. That house, which will meet for the first time on January 23, is tasked with writing the new constitution. With their win, the Islamist groups are expected to have significant influence over the document’s content.

The flag of Egypt next to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party Flag

According to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, in Burns’ discussion with FJP, he reinforced U.S. expectations that Egypt’s new government will support human rights and maintain its treaty with Israel. After their talk, FJP head Mohammed Mursi called on Washington to adopt a “positive position concerning Arab and Muslim causes,” saying its policies in the past were “biased” — an apparent reference to the strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

The Brotherhood renounced violence long ago but still supports Hamas — last month calling it a role model — and the Palestinian armed conflict against Israel. As Michael Rubin notes, “By sitting down and talking to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration legitimizes the group and the violence which has propelled it to prominence.” Rather than openly declare its policy of engaging the Brotherhood, the administration could have held closed-door discussions that would be just as effective in creating a relationship but without legitimizing the movement that is opposed to so many issues that are in America’s interest.