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CAIRO - The U.S. government announced today it was seeking to open a dialogue with Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood, signaling a possible shift in policy toward Islamist political parties as pro-democracy movements take hold throughout the Arab world.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently visited Egypt, said, "It is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to nonviolence. We welcome, therefore, dialogue with those Muslim Brotherhood members who wish to talk with us."
Clinton made the comments to reporters while traveling in Budapest, according to the Associated Press.
High-level diplomats, including Undersecretary of State William J. Burns, were in Cairo this week and held talks with many different leaders of the coalition of movements that took part in the demonstrations, including several leaders of a youth movement within the Muslim Brotherhood, according to a source who was involved in the talks.
Despite the opening of dialogue with the U.S., it remains to be seen how Washington will square the Brotherhood's historic rejection of the 1979 Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
In an interview with FRONTLINE and GlobalPost, Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian, a likely candidate for parliament, said, "Israel has never lived up to the treaty. We will recognize the treaty when Israel lives up to the treaty," before abruptly ending the interview.
Officially outlawed for decades, the Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful Islamist organization that operated in the shadows of Egypt's political landscape, where it built a solid following particularly among the country's traditionally religious population. It also appealed to Egypt's vast underclass by providing a network of social services, such as hospitals and schools, in areas neglected by the corrupt and brutal government of President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country for 30 years before he was toppled in February by the pro-democracy protest movement.
The Brotherhood threw its considerable weight behind the street demonstrations of the Jan. 25 revolution in Egypt. And now as the country lurches toward new elections scheduled for September and the drafting of a new constitution, the Brotherhood has created a new political party and stands to emerge as a major voting block. By conservative estimates, the Brotherhood is expected to gain at least 30 percent of the seats in a new parliament.
The Brotherhood, which dates back to 1929 and is believed to have up to 10 million supporters in Egypt and tens of millions through its worldwide movement, which has established chapters in Jordan, Syria, Palestine and across the Arab world, will be putting forward its Islamist agenda. And that has caused considerable concern among Egypt's Christian minority as well as women and the more liberal, secular movements that took part in the revolution.
The Brotherhood has also modified some of its more rigid political stances, for example no longer saying that it would ban a woman or Christian from becoming president.