The Obama administration has decided to open direct contacts with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood long ago gave up violence and has been a responsible parliamentary actor for many years, though it largely promotes right-wing policies. People who believe in democracy should welcome the incorporation into the parliamentary process of all major political blocs, and the Brotherhood is among Egypt’s largest. Of course, that welcome depends on the party’s willingness to play by parliamentary rules– to seek to win political arguments by persuasion, to avoid violence, and to contest elections in a transparent way and to go home if you lose. So far there is no evidence that the Brotherhood’s party would not play by those rules, and its party functionaries insist that of course they will. More on the Brotherhood can be found at MERIP.
I called for a more straightforward relationship between the US and the Brotherhood in my book, Engaging the Muslim World (which apparently George W. Bush and his administration would not have wanted you to read.)
The Brotherhood has blown hot and cold on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, which most Egyptians critique as a separate peace that allowed Israel to attack Lebanon at will and to expropriate the Palestinians on a vast scale. Still, a just-released poll shows that 2/3s of Egyptians want to keep the treaty intact. Egyptians of an older generation remember the hardships of the Arab-Israeli Wars, and have told the youngsters about the meatless days and bad economic times, apparently to some effect. A founder of the Freedom and Justice Party, Usama Gado, has said that past treaties signed by Egypt that benefit the people should be retained. Freedom and Justice is the Brotherhood’s new political party (or at least one of them; the young people may go in a different direction). Some other Muslim Brotherhood members sympathize with Hamas and want the treaty abrogated.
But the US has diplomatic relations with many countries that do not recognize Israel and have no peace treaty with it. It is not clear why its diplomats should treat the Brotherhood differently.
Personally, I don’t like most of the Brotherhood’s policies and wouldn’t vote for them, but then I feel the same way about many evangelical-Republican positions in South Carolina. It is better to have them in the system where we can argue with them publicly.
The French ambassador on Thursday met with the leader of the Justice and Development Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is contesting for seats in about half of Egypt’s parliamentary constituencies.