U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that the Obama administration wants to open a dialog with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
"We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to nonviolence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency," Clinton told reporters in Budapest, Hungary. "And we welcome, therefore, dialogue with those Muslim Brotherhood members who wish to talk with us,"
Clinton added the desired dialog "will continue to emphasize the importance of and support for democratic principles, and especially a commitment to nonviolence, respect for minority rights, and the full inclusion of women in any democracy. You cannot leave out half the population and claim that you are committed to democracy."
Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, told CNN he had heard of the U.S. interest in dialogue only from media reports.
"The U.S. administration has supported dictators for decades and authorized torture, repression and colonization. The U.S. is hated in the Middle East region more than any other country according to polls published in the U.S,” Ghozlan said.
“If the U.S. is serious in opening a dialogue, they must first respect the people's choices for a true democracy, independence and respect their choice of leaders,” Ghozlan continued, “We would welcome the open dialogue, if they are serious and transparent."
Pushing for Sharia
Muslim Brotherhood members, joined by allied Hamas fighters from Gaza, were at the fore of some of the most violent protests during the demonstrations in Egypt that resulted in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
In the aftermath, the group's leadership threw its support behind the interim-junta that took power until criticism from other opposition parties started to hurt it in the polls.
The Islamist group, which originally said it dos not intend to field a candidate for president, has since created a broad super-coalition of opposition parties in hopes of taking Egypt's next government by storm.
The international media frequently quotes former brotherhood leaders who say the group's new Freedom and Justice party is not theocratic and supports democracy in English-language interviews, but current leaders openly advocate the imposition of sharia law in Egypt's Arabic press.
“Terms like civil or secular state are misleading,” the brotherhood's Sobhi Saleh told Egyptian Arabic daily Al Masry Al Youm. “Islamic Sharia is the best system for Muslims and non-Muslims."
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 with the express goal of ousting the British and creating an independent Islamic state.
Dialog with the group has sparked controversy in the United States, where a debate over the brotherhood's essential character still rages on.
US President Barack Obama tried to downplay the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood dominating Egyptian politics saying it is just one faction in Egypt that does not have majority support.
"There are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt, that want to come to the fore as well," Obama told Fox News in February.
"It's important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people," Obama added.
But observers familiar with the Muslim Brotherhood say its famed organizational prowess means it does not need a majority in Egypt's parliamentary system to play king-maker and push its radical Islamist agenda.
Former CIA Director Mike Hayden says he believes the brotherhood could "enjoy a disproportionate power in shaping the new government."
The pro-Zionist StandWithUs Organization issued a sharp response to the US move.
"StandWithUs is deeply disturbed that the U.S. government is establishing relations with Egypt`s Muslim Brotherhood [MB]. The MB is a dangerous movement committed to establishing a repressive, intolerant theocracy, and to replacing liberal democracies with Sharia law," the response read.
"We urge the American government to reverse course, and ensure that it upholds moderate forces in Egypt and the wider region. The U.S. should not be giving cover and support to the most dangerous and repressive forces in the region, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its various offshoots, including Hamas," it added.
The organization has asked the public to wage a letter writing campaign against relations with the MB.