Reflecting a real politik approach to the new Egypt? Or a betrayal of Israel?
U.S. officials have met members of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, a U.S. diplomat said, after Washington announced it would have direct contacts with Egypt's biggest Islamist group whose role has grown since U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
Washington announced the plans in June, portraying such contacts as the continuation of an earlier policy. But analysts said it reflected a new approach to the way it dealt with a group which Mubarak banned from politics.
The Brotherhood is one of Egypt's most popular and organized groups, with a broad grassroots network built up partly through social work even in Mubarak's era.
The contacts may unsettle Israel and its U.S. backers. The Brotherhood renounced violence as a means to achieve political change in Egypt years ago. But groups like Hamas, which have not disavowed violence, look to the Brotherhood as a spiritual guide.
Under the previous policy, U.S. diplomats were allowed to deal with the Brotherhood's members of parliament who had won seats as "independents" to skirt the official ban. This offered a diplomatic cover to keep lines of communication open.
"We have had direct contacts with senior officials of the Freedom and Justice party," the senior diplomat told Reuters, referring to the Brotherhood's party that was founded after politics opened up following the ouster of Mubarak.
It doesn't matter if you believe that the Brotherhood has renounced violence. They support terrorist groups like Hamas anyway so their proclamations carry little weight.
The problem is how they want to transform Egyptian society and the consequences the imposition of Sharia will have on the region. It will almost certainly boost the Brotherhood in countries like Syria, Yemen, and perhaps Jordan where King Abdullah has been struggling to satisfy Islamists with political reforms. And it will almost certainly mean that the peace treaty with Israel will be honored in the breach. The treaty will be "re-interpreted" in ways that could make it impossible for Israel to abide by its terms.
Are we encouraging the Brotherhood by meeting with them? I think it more reflects the acceptance of a new reality in Egypt and is probably better than ignoring them. But we have a great big club to weild with our billions in aid sent to Cairo every year. I would suggest we let the Brotherhood know in no uncertain terms the price of that aid; continued peace with Israel and no meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.