- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2012

Egypt’s likely next president has long called for the U.S. to hold a “scientific conference” to determine the real culprits of the Sept. 11 attacks, having cast doubt on al Qaeda’s role in 9/11 for years.

“The U.S. administration has never presented any evidences on the identity of those who committed that incident,” longtime Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi is quoted as saying in a 2007 posting on Ikhwanweb, the Islamist group’s official English website.

“The Muslim Brotherhood and others demanded a transparent trial with clear evidence and to have court rulings,” he said after the sixth anniversary of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. “We confirm that this isn’t a defense to those who committed these actions, but we only seek the truth.”

Mr. Morsi last week won the most votes in the first round of Egypt’s presidential election, and he is heavily favored to win a runoff this month against secular former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik.

He is not the only candidate to have floated conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11 attacks: Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh - a former Brotherhood figure who finished fourth in last week’s race - said last year that he believed 9/11 was “part of a conspiracy.”

Mr. Morsi’s remarks underscore the challenges the U.S. likely will face in a Brotherhood-dominated Egypt. The group’s Freedom and Justice Party won 47 percent of the seats in Egypt’s parliamentary elections and is expected to play a dominant role in crafting a new constitution.

A call for proof

While condemning the 9/11 attack “regardless of its doer,” Mr. Morsi lambasted the U.S. response to them, calling the Bush administration “the world’s terrorism leader” and accusing it of getting “in line with Israeli occupation forces in aggression, injustice, encroaching lands and raping women.”

According to the Brotherhood website’s characterization of his 9/11 remarks, Mr. Morsi said the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq “due to the U.S. administration claims that the doers of the 11 September attacks [were] Muslims, without proving such a thing until now.”

In 2008, Mr. Morsi called on the U.S. to provide “scientific” proof for its account of events.

“We have officially demanded a fair trial for 9/11 suspects and the issuance of a detailed scientific report about the attacks, but the U.S. administration did not respond till now,” Mr. Morsi told Ikhwanweb.

“This requires a huge scientific conference that is devoted to analyzing what caused the attack against a massive structure like the two WTC towers,” he said, referring to the World Trade Center. “Should this happen, we will stand firmly against whoever committed this horrific crime against innocent civilians.”

However, Osama bin Laden, the late al Qaeda leader, admitted his terror group’s involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks in a videotaped message in October 2004.

Actions and rhetoric

Mr. Morsi, 60, has long been regarded as one of the Brotherhood’s more conservative leaders. He was instrumental in sidelining Mr. Aboul Fotouh and other reformist voices within the group.

Mr. Aboul Fotouh had fought against a plank in the Brotherhood’s 2007 platform saying that women and Christians should be barred from running for president. Mr. Morsi supported the exclusionary language.

In recent weeks, Mr. Morsi has sought to moderate his image, vowing not to impose the veil on women and saying he would appoint Christian presidential advisers. He also has promised to uphold Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, despite having called Israelis “vampires.”

Joshua Stacher, a political science professor at Kent State University who has met Mr. Morsi several times, said it would be a mistake to extrapolate the Muslim Brotherhood’s future behavior from its past statements.

“The Brotherhood is a disciplined organization,” he said. “They’re going to play ball with neo-liberal economics. They’re going to play ball with Israel. Their actions don’t match the rhetoric.”

But the rhetoric could alienate members of Congress at a time when foreign aid is receiving increased scrutiny. The U.S. gives Egypt $1.3 billion in annual military aid - more than to any country but Israel.

U.S. support for Israel has long been a sore spot for Mr. Morsi. In a 2009 interview with Mr. Stacher published by the Middle East Research and Information Project, Mr. Morsi said that “American taxpayers are buying the hatred of other people.”

“We will never forget in the future how to hate America because of all this running blood,” he said. “Yes, the Zionists are doing it, but with the diplomatic support of the U.S. As long as they are doing this, the resistance will never stop.”

Eric Trager, an Egypt expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the test for Mr. Morsi is not what he says on the campaign circuit, but how he would react in a crisis.

“Given the upsurge in militant activity in the Sinai Peninsula, another attack on Israel from Egyptian territory - and an Israeli response - is practically inevitable,” he said. “Can anyone have confidence in a President Morsi communicating with his Israeli and American counterparts to dial down the tension?”