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September 22, 2017

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US overtures to Islamists in Egypt show pragmatism


U.S. officials have long had informal relations with Brotherhood figures. Some were present at President Barack Obama's landmark speech at Cairo University in 2009 and American congressmen have met with Brotherhood parliamentarians.

More official, and more regular, contacts could evolve into tentative cooperation on broader regional issues, with the U.S. anxious to ensure that a democratic Egypt will keep the peace treaty with Israel.

Brotherhood officials have played down the prospect of scrapping the 1979 Camp David accords if they ever achieved enough power to sway foreign policy, insisting that they would keep deals that are in Egypt's interest.

Egyptian commentators say a dialogue with the Brotherhood would give the United States one more channel to influence more militant groups such as Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, which have cooperated with the Brotherhood and share some of its goals.

"America could also use Egypt's Brotherhood to pressure Hamas to accept certain things when needed," said Emad Gad, a senior researcher at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

The benefits for the Brotherhood, which welcomed the prospect of formal contacts with Washington, seem less obvious.

Spokesman Mohamed Saad el-Katatni told Reuters they would help "clarifying our vision" and would not signify any interference in Egypt's internal affairs.

But Brotherhood supporters might fear the movement's leadership are selling out their principles to gain influence with Washington, still unpopular among many Muslims over the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Technically it gives them more legitimacy on the political front, and internationally," said Amira Salah-Ahmed, a 28-year-old Egyptian journalist.

"But at home it could discredit them and make people more suspicious of their intentions given the unpopularity of the U.S. among Egyptians, especially now after the revolution when people are eager for more sovereignty."

The Brotherhood has said it will contest no more than half of the seats in what would be Egypt's first truly democratic parliament in decades and will not run for the presidency as it does not seek to dominate the government.

"They will be seen to be power-seekers, which contradicts what they have said repeatedly," said Gad.

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