April 23, 2007
issue - A brief encounter at a Cairo
cocktail party could signal a shift in Bush
administration policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood, a
worldwide Islamic movement that the United States
has shunned because of its alleged ties to terrorism.
The party, at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt
Francis Ricciardone, was for House Majority Leader Steny
Hoyer and other visiting members of Congress. While
there, Hoyer told NEWSWEEK, he was introduced by a U.S.
Embassy official to one of the invited guests: Mohammed
Saad el-Katatni, a Brotherhood leader who also serves as
a chief of an "independent" bloc in the
Egyptian Parliament allied with the movement, which
itself is banned by the Egyptian government. Hoyer told
the embassy he wanted to hear "alternative"
voices in Egypt.
He had met el-Katatni with other Parliament members
earlier in the day. But, Hoyer said, "we didn't ask
that the Brotherhood be included in the reception.
Frankly, we were surprised to see him." During
their five-minute talk, Hoyer and el-Katatni debated the
role of Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the
Brotherhood. "He was definitely rationalizing
Hamas's position," said Hoyer.
officials in Egypt
at first downplayed the meeting's significance, claiming
that embassy officials have met in the past with
Brotherhood members who are in the Parliament. But a
official (who declined to be identified because of
diplomatic sensitivities) says the invite to el-Katatni
was "cleared" by the State Department and
represented the highest-level contacts with the
Brotherhood since 9/11. "This doesn't mean we are
embracing the group," the official says. "It
means we recognize that we have to listen to a wide
range of voices." The meeting was also a
"subtle, smart way to express concern" over a
recent crackdown in which Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak's government has arrested other Brotherhood
leaders and charged them in secret military courts.
apparent softening in the U.S.
approach is controversial. Some counterterror officials
have been pressing for years for a full-scale U.S.
intel investigation of the Brotherhood, arguing that,
despite its public disavowal of violence, the group aims
to create a worldwide Islamic state. "They are a
wolf in sheep's clothing," says Chris Hamilton, a
former FBI counterterror official. But another top
Brotherhood leader, Yousef Nada—a Swiss banker whom U.S.
officials have accused of being a terrorist
financier—says (in a PBS documentary about the
Brotherhood, airing this week) that Washington will have to deal with the
group "if they want ... peace in this area."
Nada vehemently denies any connection with terrorism.
and Isikoff report on the Muslim Brotherhood in an
independently produced documentary to be broadcast on
Friday, April 20, at /,
on public-television stations nationwide.