US increases outreach to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

AP, Thursday 12 Jan 2012

US State Department's number two diplomat met with Muslim Brotherhood leaders on Wednesday, the highest-level contact between Washington and the once-banned group poised to dominate parliament since Mubarak's ouster

Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Saad el-Katatni (Photo: AP)

The number two diplomat from the US State Department met with Muslim Brotherhood leaders on Wednesday, the highest-level contact between Washington and the once-banned group poised to dominate the country's first parliament chosen after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which has won more than 40 per cent of the seats in parliamentary elections.

The parliament, scheduled to convene on 23 January, is tasked with appointing a 100-member panel to write a new constitution. With its dominance, the Islamist group could have significant influence over the constitution’s content.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Burns' meeting with the Brotherhood leaders was a chance to reinforce US expectations that Egypt's parties will support human rights, women's rights and religious tolerance.

Mohammed Morsi, head of the FJP, told Burns that there is a consensus on civic freedoms and rights for the new constitution, according to a party statement.

The meeting was part of an effort by the US government to reach out to the Brotherhood after decades of shunning the movement while it was outlawed under Mubarak's regime. Thousands of its members were arrested during his 30-year rule, though its members were allowed to run as independent candidates in parliamentary elections.

Noting the Brotherhood’s success, Morsi said the first elections after Mubarak stepped down in February were an expression of Egyptians' "ability to create change."

"The large participation of the people in the three stages of the elections was a translation of the people's choice for the democratic path as the beginning of change, development and stability in Egypt," he said, according to the statement.

Morsi urged the United States to "reconsider" its policies in the region, favouring people's choices as reflected by the Arab Spring uprisings instead of dictatorial regimes, because that proved to be "not in its best interest."

Morsi said his party understands the importance of US-Egyptian relations, which he said must be based on "a balance" between the two sides.

The FJP statement said Burns expressed interest in its views about economic and political developments in Egypt and the region. It also said Burns repeated US interest in promoting investment in Egypt, but also urged Egypt to cooperate with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Egyptian media report that a delegation from the IMF is expected in Egypt soon to discuss the possibilities of a $3 billion loan to help the country's economy, which has suffered from instability in the wake of the uprising.

Burns met with other political groups in Egypt, but not with the more radical Islamist Salafi parties, which finished second in the election.

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