(CNSNews.com) - Shortly after House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi took flak for her controversial visit to Damascus, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer met in Egypt with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist network that spawned Hamas.
Hoyer's spokeswoman, Stacey Bernards, was quoted Sunday as denying that the Maryland Democrat had "personal meetings" with Muslim Brotherhood members. Bernards confirmed the lawmaker had taken part in a meeting with Egyptian legislators, including Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, who heads the Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc.
The Muslim Brotherhood's website, however, referred to a "high profile meeting" between Hoyer and el-Katatni, although it said the encounter was downplayed by the Brotherhood and Hoyer's office.
The website's editor, Khaled Salam, said the meeting "clearly signals a positive shift in the attitude of both sides to explore the prospects of a more formal dialogue which hopefully will gain more supporters in the U.S. if Democrats win the White House in 2008."
"The meeting is expected to cause anxiety in the U.S. especially among the powerful pro-Israel supporters who will not be happy to see any rapprochement between the U.S. and M.B. in any forms or shape," Salam continued.
"There are also many within the M.B. who are very reluctant about any possibility of dialogue with the U.S. and are highly skeptical of the U.S. intentions and plans for the region."
Formed in Egypt in the 1920s, the Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan in Arabic) now has branches and followers in dozens of countries. It promotes the establishment of a caliphate -- a supranational society living under Islamic law (shari'a).
Although officially banned in Egypt, the organization is tolerated, and since 2005, 88 seats in the 454-member lower house of parliament have been held by "independents" linked to the Brotherhood.
Top terrorists who have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood include 9/11 architect Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who joined the organization in Kuwait; al-Qaeda number two Ayman Zawahiri, a former top member of the Brotherhood in Egypt; and the jailed World Trade Center bombing plotter sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, also an Egyptian.
Palestinian Arab sheikh Ahmed Yassin founded Hamas as the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian arm in 1987. Hamas published its charter or constitution the following year. The document, full of Koranic references, calls for Jews to be killed and says all Muslims are duty-bound to join a jihad to destroy Israel.
Hamas is believed to be responsible for killing more than 500 people, mostly Israelis, in hundreds of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, since 1993.
The organization won control of the Palestinian legislature in early 2006, and the Palestinian Authority government has been subjected since then to an international financial boycott because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and agree to commitments contained in earlier Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Last February Hamas struck a deal to govern the P.A. in collaboration with Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction.
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