Sen. John Kerry Expected to Meet With Muslim Brotherhood Presidential Candidate

By Patrick Goodenough | May 2, 2012 | 5:00am EDT

Sen. John Kerry meets Egyptians in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focal point of the anti-government protests, during a March 2011 visit to Egypt. (AP Photo)

( – Three weeks before Egypt’s crucial presidential election, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry will meet in Cairo Wednesday with the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, whom the Islamist party is confident will win, despite lagging in opinion polls.

Mohammed Morsi will discuss “bilateral relations and recent developments” with Kerry, according to an entry on the Web site of the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson also reportedly will be present.

“The visit comes in the context of the U.S. government’s concern over Egypt’s democratic transition, witnessing the evolution of the political scene in the transitional phase, becoming familiar with the FJP’s presidential candidate and reviewing the Renaissance project,” said Khaled Kazzaz, a party lawmaker and member of the parliament’s foreign relations committee, who was part of a recent Muslim Brotherhood delegation visiting Washington.

Kerry’s schedule during his two-day visit has not been made public, and it was unclear whether he would meet any other presidential candidates.

Current opinion polls variously have Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, or Amr Moussa, a radical nationalist and former foreign minister, in line to win, with Morsi far behind. (Two polls released late last week differed widely, with one finding 12 percent of respondents undecided and the other 50 percent.)

But the Brotherhood’s organizational network and wide support base – reflected in its parliamentary victories in late 2011 and early this year – has the group confident that Morsi will win; the Muslim Brotherhood’s Web site describes him as Egypt’s “most likely first post-revolution president.”

Morsi has questioned the appropriateness of non-Muslims or women running for president, although his campaign seeks to soften his image. The platform is entitled “Renaissance, the Will of the People,” and not – Morsi stresses – the Brotherhood’s long-held official slogan, “Islam is the solution.”

In a campaign speech in Cairo on Monday, Morsi declared that the Muslim Brotherhood’s aim was to promote Egypt’s sovereignty and respect among the nations.

“The days of subordination are over, and dawn of independence is upon us,” he said. “We aim to create balanced international relations. With Islamic reference and the vital energies of the Egyptian people, the country will rise again and advance.”

Morsi met with Kerry last December in the Egyptian’s capacity as FJP leader – the Brotherhood had at that stage not yet reversed its earlier pledge not to field a presidential candidate, but a six-week legislative election process was nearing an end and Morsi’s party looked set to dominate parliament.

According to a Brotherhood statement at the time, Morsi had given Kerry assurances on Muslim Brotherhood policies, saying for example it was unlikely to make radical changes to the constitution or national laws relating to investment, and indicating that Egypt “respects” international treaties that it has signed. The fall of the Mubarak regime prompted concerns about the future of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement.

“John Kerry stated that he was not surprised at the progress and leading position of the FJP on the electoral landscape in Egypt, emphasizing his respect for the public will in Egypt,” the Brotherhood statement said.

“Kerry welcomed the FJP vision and called on all Egyptian political stakeholders and parties to work to urgently apply essential mechanisms for the advancement of the economic situation to ensure the survival of the democratic experience in Egypt.”

After the Kerry-Morsi talks in December, a leading Salafist politician told reporters that the American’s meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood was a “victory” for Islamists and a sign of their strength.

“It also shows that the Americans know well the desires of the Egyptian people,” said Hazem Salah Abou-Ismail, a Salafist cleric who was himself a leading presidential contender until disqualified last month by the country’s electoral commission.

Kerry did not issue a statement about the Dec. 2011 meeting with Morsi, and a brief U.S. Embassy report said only that Kerry met with members of the government and ruling military council and “several political party leaders,” without identifying any of the latter.

The embassy statement said Kerry had during his various meetings “reinforced the importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship and the impact of Egypt’s historic period of transition on the future of the entire region. He also emphasized the need to focus on the economy and to convey ‘a message of confidence to the world’ to attract foreign investment and encourage tourists to return.”

Kerry’s visit to Cairo this week follows a visit to Israel, where he met Tuesday with Shimon Peres, Israel’s ceremonial president, and Afghanistan, where he had discussions with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Saturday.

Kerry, the Democratic Party’s unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2004, was thought to be a strong contender for secretary of state in 2009 but President-elect Obama offered the post to Hillary Clinton. With Clinton having repeatedly announced her intention to stand down at the end of this term, speculation has again arisen about the possibility Kerry may succeed her should Obama win in November.

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