A sign that the Obama administration is willing to publicly challenge Egypt's commitment to parliamentary democracy: various Middle Eastern news sources report that the administration insisted that at least 10 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's chief opposition party, be allowed to attend his speech in Cairo on Thursday. The brotherhood is a Salafist/ Islamist party with branches in many countries, and it does not have a reputation for liberalism and has supported violent campaigns against Israel (and Egypt's own government). It has deep roots in the region and traces its intellectual lineage to Sayyid Qutb, a top American-educated Islamic intellectual who was executed -- or martyred -- by the Egyptian government in 1966. The Brotherhood has direct links with Sunni groups like Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Its standing in Egypt has suffered as of late because of a crackdown
by the Egyptian government and a growing frustration that it is too conservative (anti-women's rights, the whole gamut) for a modern Middle East. Still, it's the largest Sunni opposition party in the world
, and it's clear that the Obama administration wants to engage the Sunnis -- even the less moderate Sunnis -- in his "Mutual Respect" tour. Hoping to tamp down criticism that by speaking in Egypt, Obama is giving legitimacy to Hosni Mubarak's quasi-dictatorship, the administration also invited leading human rights activists to the speech.
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