White House Defends Meeting with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Posted April 5th, 2012 at 7:30 pm (UTC-5)
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The White House has defended Thursday meetings between mid-level officials from the U.S. National Security Agency and representatives of Egypt's Islamist political party, Muslim Brotherhood.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the United States in engaging with a variety of Egypt's emerging political groups as the country's political situation evolves following last year's ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

On Wednesday, Carney described the agency officials as “low-level.”

Carney said he did not have information on the substance of the meeting but gave assurances that great emphasis was placed on democracy and human rights.

“The Muslim Brotherhood will be a major player, and we are engaging because that is the appropriate and right thing to do. And we will judge all of the political actors in Egypt by their actions, by their commitment to democracy and democratic processes and protection of civil rights.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is one of five Islamist parties from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and Libya, which took part in a conference in Washington Thursday.

The United States and Egypt are traditional allies, but the relationship was strained when Cairo cracked down on non-governmental organizations earlier this year. Egypt refused to allow several U.S. citizens to leave the country. The heightened tension put $1.3 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt in question, but Washington decided to approve the funding last month.

The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt's best organized opposition group. Its members took part in the protests that swept Hosni Mubarak from power, but they did not dominate them. Instead, the brotherhood works behind the scenes to win support and pave the way for what its leaders hope is the eventual imposition of Sharia law in the Arab world's most populous nation.

In Cairo, meanwhile, Egypt's presidential election commission disqualified one Islamist candidate because his mother was an American citizen. Hazem Abu Ismail, a lawyer and preacher, was disqualified under a law that says candidates, their spouses and parents must hold only Egyptian citizenship.

Ismail used anti-U.S. rhetoric in his campaign speeches, and his departure from the race is expected to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood.