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Why engaging with the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t quite as simple as it seems

12 May 2013

5:48 PM

12 May 2013

5:48 PM

Conventional wisdom has long suggested that we should engage pernicious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in order to defang them. Just talk to them, it is said, and you’ll discover they’re not as bad as they seem. Proponents of this view also believe that to engage reactionaries is to control them.

Tell that to members of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who tried to engage the Muslim Brotherhood earlier this week. They invited its Secretary-General, Helmy el-Gazzar, to Washington D.C. where it was hoped he would engage in a discussion about the future of Egyptian politics. They organised his visa, booked him business class flights, and arranged for him to stay in the comfortable surroundings of the Ritz-Carlton.

When the conference in which el-Gazzar was supposed to speak started on Thursday, he was notably absent. The Brotherhood is believed to have sent him a message to stay away, saying he had learned ‘Zionists’ would also be participating in the conference. El-Gazzar also issued a statement saying he was refusing to participate because he did not accept ‘normalisation with Israel.’ He then disappeared without saying a word to his hosts.

While el-Gazzar was being ordered to stay quiet, the Brotherhood was simultaneously sending its most senior spiritual adviser – the radical cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi – into Gaza. He repeated the usual boilerplate rhetoric of many a robed rogue vowing to ‘destroy Israel’ and ‘liberate’ Palestine. Indeed, Qaradawi praised Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and encouraged them to continue with that disastrous policy. Whatever happened to all those who praised the Brotherhood last November for its supposed statesmanship in brokering a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel?

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