Global media is reporting that U.S. officials have met officially for the first time with members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. According to a Reuters report:
U.S. officials have met members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, a U.S. diplomat said, after Washington announced it would have direct contacts with Egypt’s biggest Islamist group whose role has grown since U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was ousted. Washington announced the plans in June, portraying such contacts as the continuation of an earlier policy. But analysts said it reflected a new approach to the way it dealt with a group which Mubarak banned from politics. The Brotherhood is one of Egypt’s most popular and organized groups, with a broad grassroots network built up partly through social work even in Mubarak’s era. The contacts may unsettle Israel and its U.S. backers. The Brotherhood renounced violence as a means to achieve political change in Egypt years ago. But groups like Hamas, which have not disavowed violence, look to the Brotherhood as a spiritual guide. Under the previous policy, U.S. diplomats were allowed to deal with the Brotherhood’s members of parliament who had won seats as “independents” to skirt the official ban. This offered a diplomatic cover to keep lines of communication open. “We have had direct contacts with senior officials of the Freedom and Justice party,” the senior diplomat told Reuters, referring to the Brotherhood’s party that was founded after politics opened up following the ouster of Mubarak. The diplomat said U.S. officials did not make a distinction between members of the Brotherhood or its party. “We don’t have a policy that makes a distinction, that one or the other is off limits,” he said, without saying when the meetings took place. The diplomat was responding to a question about whether any meetings had occurred, after Freedom Justice Party Chairman Mohamed Mursi told Egypt’s Al-Dostour newspaper last week that U.S. officials had not made contact since the policy shift. Speaking to Reuters on Sunday, the party deputy head Essam el-Erian also denied any meetings had taken place with U.S. officials when asked about the diplomat’s comments. It was not immediately clear why the two sides gave different accounts.
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It should be noted that the Muslim Brotherhood today has become a global network and that the Egyptian mother branch is not necessarily the most important part of the movement. Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, close to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, is often referred to by the GMBDW as the most important leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood, an acknowledgement of his role as the de facto spiritual leader of the movement. In 2004, Qaradawi turned down the offer to lead the Egyptian Brotherhood after the death of the Supreme Guide.