The White House is downplaying the significance of a meeting between administration officials and envoys from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood this week.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said representatives from the Islamic political organization met with "mid-level" officials from the National Security Council in Washington and said it was a reflection of the new politics in Egypt and the "prominent role" the group now plays in Cairo.
"We have broadened our engagement to include new and emerging political parties and actors," Mr. Carney said Thursday. "Because of the fact that Egypt's political landscape has changed, the actors have become more diverse and our engagement reflects that. The point is that we will judge Egypt's political actors by how they action — not by their religious affiliation."
Mr. Carney also pointedly noted that GOP Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham also chose to meet with the Muslim Brotherhood during a recent visit to Egypt.
Concern about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, and their influence in Egypt grew during last year's uprising and subsequent ousting of President Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Mubarak had officially banned the Brotherhood, because of past ties to terror group Hamas and its support of implementing Shariah law.
The Brotherhood has since said it is committed to nonviolence, and over the weekend nominated a prominent businessman to run for president — despite previously saying it would abstain from offering its own candidate. Instead of condemning the move, Obama administration officials told the New York Times they are optimistic about the nomination because the Muslim Brotherhood candidate could siphon off votes from another hard-line Islamist candidate who is the current frontrunner in the race.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party likely will control slightly less than half of the seats in Egypt's new parliament and is working on crafting a more moderate image.
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