Hoyer Meets Top Of­fi­cial of Group Egypt Has Out­lawed

The Washington Post Sunday - - Politics - By Nadia Abou El-Magd

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.

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