Hoyer Meets Top Official of Group Egypt Has Outlawed
CAIRO, April 7 — The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House met a leading member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed but tolerated opposition group, during a recent visit to the country, the Islamic fundamentalist group and U.S. officials said Saturday.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) met with the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliament leader, Mohammad Saad al-Katatni, twice on Thursday, once at the parliament building and then at the home of the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, said Brotherhood spokesman Hamdi Hassan.
The meetings came just a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) drew sharp criticism from the Bush administration for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.
U.S. Embassy spokesman John Berry would confirm only that Hoyer met with Katatni at Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone Jr.’s home at a reception with other politicians and parliament members.
Though officially banned since 1954, the Brotherhood is tolerated by the government. It has become Egypt’s largest opposition group and President Hosni Mubarak’s most powerful rival.
Its members, who run as independents, make up the largest opposition bloc in parliament, holding about one-fifth of its 454 seats.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refused in the past to meet with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But Berry said that U.S. government policy does not bar meetings with the Brotherhood’s members of parliament and that Hoyer’s talks with Katatni did not represent a change in U.S. policy toward the group.
“It’s our diplomatic practice around the world to meet with parliamentarians, be they members of political parties or independents,” Berry said. “We haven’t changed our policy with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization.”
The State Department had no comment Saturday on Hoyer’s meetings with the group’s parliamentary leader.
Hassan said the two lawmakers discussed developments in the Middle East, the “Brotherhood’s vision” and opposition movements in Egypt.
Hoyer, who also met with Mubarak during his visit, left Egypt on Friday. A telephone message left with his spokeswoman on Saturday was not immediately returned. Calls to Katatni also went unanswered Saturday.