But contacts with officials of the US administration would require the approval of the Egyptian foreign ministry, Mohamed Habib, the Muslim Brotherhood's deputy leader, told Reuters on Sunday.

 

The attitude of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has expanded its presence in the Egyptian parliament almost six-fold in elections over the past five weeks, is a shift away from the wariness of the past.

 

The Muslim Brotherhood's previous position was that Washington must change its policies before the Islamists would begin a dialogue.

 

Because its contingent in the outgoing parliament was small, the question of contacts with US lawmakers did not arise.

 

US contact

 

Habib, speaking on the sidelines of a celebration of its electoral success, said: "Members of (the US) Congress can speak to (Brotherhood) members of parliament.

 

"Talking directly with US officials is especially sensitive, so if the (US) embassy asks for a meeting, it should ask through the Foreign Ministry ... We don't have a problem with that."

 

After elections the Brotherhood's
presence in parliament grew

Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, the new head of the 88-strong Muslim Brotherhood caucus in the 454-seat parliament, said: "If it's a matter of a representative of the people with a representative of the people, then there's no objection to discussions.

 

"For dealings with the official establishment (the administration), it should be under the umbrella of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry."

 

The Egyptian government has discouraged any contacts between foreign governments and the Muslim Brotherhood because they would give the Brotherhood a form of recognition.

 

US reaction

 

The US administration said last week that it would "respect Egyptian law" and not deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities will not allow to form a political party.

 

"At one moment a course of action (by the Egyptian government) is blessed (by Washington) and a few hours later it is criticised"

Mohamed Habib,
Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader

However, Adam Ereli, a US State Department spokesman, said the new Islamist members of parliament were elected as independents so there would be no US ban on dealing with them.

 

Habib said the Muslim Brotherhood found the US attitude towards the movement contradictory and volatile. "At one moment a course of action (by the Egyptian government) is blessed (by Washington) and a few hours later it is criticised.

 

"This is not reassuring. There is no value system or principles on which the US administration depends in its assessment of things."

 

The Muslim Brotherhood opposes the US military presence in Iraq and its support for Israel.