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Middle East
US Democrat in Brotherhood meeting
US House majority leader holds talks with MP from Egypt's banned opposition group.
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2007 10:40 GMT
Pelosi, left, met Syria's president a day before
Hoyer, right, met al-Katatni [AP]

A senior US Democrat has met a leading member of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood, despite past refusals by US officials to meet with Brotherhood leaders.
 
Steny Hoyer, the US House majority leader, met Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, the Brotherhood's parliamentary leader, twice on Thursday, according to Hamdi Hassan, a Brotherhood spokesman.
Hassan said the two met at the parliament building and again later at the home of Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador to Egypt.
 
But John Berry, a US spokesman, only confirmed that the two met on Thursday at the US ambassador's home as part of a reception that included other parliament members.
Berry said the talks between el-Katatni and Hoyer were not a change in US policy towards 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 organisation."
 
Berry said that Hoyer met with el-Katatni in his capacity as an independent member of the Egyptian parliament, but would not say what the two discussed.
 
Hassan, though, said the two discussed developments in the Middle East, the "Brotherhood's vision" and opposition movements in Egypt.
 
The meeting comes just a day after Nancy Pelosi, a US Democrat and speaker of the House of Representatives, met Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in Damascus, despite criticism from the US administration.
 
Pelosi and other Democrats argue the US needs to engage Syria to resolve some of the problems in the Middle East, an approach the current US administration, under George Bush, the president, rejects.
 
Bush has accused Syria of exacerbating the situation in Iraq and Lebanon.
 
Banned outfit
 
The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned in Egypt since 1954.
 
Despite the ban, the Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s and focused its energy on social welfare programmes.
 
In 2005 many of its members ran for election as independent political candidates, winning one-fifth of the 454 seats in parliament, to become the largest opposition bloc.
 
As the Brotherhood's popularity has improved, the Egyptian government's tolerance of the group has decreased.
 
The Egyptian authorities have jailed about 300 members of the Brotherhood, including 40 leading figures who are set to stand trial in military courts.
 
The government has also ordered a freeze on the assets of 29 Brotherhood members, accusing them of financing a banned movement.
 
'US double-standard'
 
The US has put pressure on Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, regarding other opposition figures such as Ayman Nour, a secular politician who was jailed after challenging Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections, but Washington has not spoken out over similar campaigns against the Brotherhood.
 
"The Americans have been under criticism that they speak out only when secularists are cracked down on but don't say a word when Islamists are under harsh crackdowns," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a secular pro-democracy Egyptian-American activist in Cairo.
 
Jon Alterman, a Middle East specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the Brotherhood's legal status in Egypt meant US officials avoided meeting its leaders, in order not to strain relations with the Egyptian government, one of the closest US allies in the Middle East.
 
"The difficulty when it gets to Egypt is that the Brotherhood is not a legal group within Egypt and the US government is wary of violating laws in countries in which it operates," he said.
Source:
Agencies
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