Top intel official revises remark on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

The top U.S. intelligence official on Wednesday revised remarks he recently made on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, saying the group is “obviously not secular.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had told House lawmakers last week that the Islamist group, officially banned in Egypt, was “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam."

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On Wednesday, testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper said his comments had been misconstrued and that he was referring to the Muslim Brotherhood's involvement in Egypt’s “largely secular” political process.

“In my attempt to shorthand my description of the Muslim Brotherhood my message was lost, and that’s regrettable,” said Clapper. “The Muslim Brotherhood is obviously not secular. What I had hoped to convey, and would like to clearly state here, is that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt tries to work through a political system that has been largely secular in its orientation.”

“In Egypt, it has gained much of its support through both grassroots outreach and non-religious functions like providing health clinics and day care centers,” he said. “It also has different factions, including a conservative wing whose interpretation of Islam runs counter to broad electoral participation and a younger, more liberal wing who is more inclined to work through the secular political process.”

Clapper was roundly criticized on Capitol Hill after his comments last week, including by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King (R-N.Y.). The United States needs to take a more proactive role in making sure that the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been tied to known terrorists, does not gain an overwhelming voice in Egypt’s government, King told Fox.

In his testimony, Clapper emphasized that the Muslim Brotherhood would likely be involved in Egypt’s political process in the wake of massive protests that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

In response to questions by the panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Clapper said the Muslim Brotherhood would probably not support honoring Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel, but added that the faction would be one of several voices, including the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which announced its intention to honor the accord.  

CIA Director Leon Panetta testified that it was difficult to characterize the Muslim Brotherhood group, in sum, as an extremist group, because its tactics vary depending on the region.

“This is not a monolithic organization … and it varies from area to area,” said Panetta. “It’s very difficult to say they are extremists. It is clear that within the Muslim Brotherhood there are extremist elements that we have to pay attention to. And that’s something that we watch very closely to make sure that they are not able to exert their influence on the direction of governments in that region.”