As part of an attempt to better understand Egypt's political atmosphere, diplomats have met with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's leading Islamist organization that seeks to implement Sharia Law at the state level. Per Reuters:
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.
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 Brotherhood was instrumental in Egypt's regime change, and has helped to partially fill the political vacuum left by former president Hosni Mubarak's departure. The group is expected to do well in elections for Egypt's paliament, although no single party is projected to have a majority.
Although it advocates for nonviolence, the Brotherhood serves as spiritual inspiration to violent organizations such as Hamas, and its ultimate goal is to create a state based on the teachings and laws of Islam--a development some fear could create an extremism-friendly environment.
It is unclear when the meetings took place, or who, exactly, was present, but the anonymous diplomat made it clear that the talks were intended to faciliate communication with the rising political force:
The diplomat said contacts with the Brotherhood were part of an bid to understand Egypt better and explain U.S. policies.
"From our perspective it is important to be in touch with all of the emerging political forces here in Egypt, across the board, that are peaceful and committed to non-violence," he said.
"It helps to understand Egypt and the way the political system is developing, and it helps us to deliver our message and get them to understand where we are coming from," he added.