White House defends meeting with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

The White House on Thursday defended a meeting held with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood earlier in the week, calling it “the appropriate and right thing to do.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said it is clear to all observers that the Islamic group will be “a major player” going forward in Egyptian politics, and the Obama administration’s policy of engagement is the one they believe “has the best chance of succeeding.”

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Carney said in a press briefing that the administration has “broadened our engagement to new political actors” in the aftermath of the Arab revolution.

“The kind of engagement that we are participating in with Egypt and with its post-revolution leadership and with the emerging political actors on the scene is the right way to enhance our bilateral relationship,” he continued.

Carney confirmed “mid-level officials” from the White House met with representatives of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday.

The White House, in its response to questions about the meeting, has stressed that members of Congress, including Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), have also met with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. Carney noted that McCain and Graham “in most people's estimation outrank” the White House staffers who met with the Brotherhood this week.

The Islamic group, which had long been banned by Egypt's leaders until the revolution that removed President Hosni Mubarak from power last spring, has been a source of concern for U.S. lawmakers. The group favors a government based on religious law, raising questions about their commitment to democracy. 

The group's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, now controls a large portion of Egypt's legislature, and the party also announced Saturday plans to run a candidate in the presidential election in May despite previously promising to stay out of the race.

“The point is that we will judge Egypt's political actors by how they act, not by their religious affiliation,” Carney said. He stressed that the administration has been candid in its policy toward Egypt and expressed “what we consider to be appropriate” actions for the group moving forward.

—This story was updated at 1:14 p.m.