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Monday, May 11, 2009

Muslim Brotherhood: Obama's Egypt Trip 'useless'

(AP) Egypt's most powerful opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, on Saturday called President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to Egypt "useless" unless the U.S. shows dramatic change in its policies toward Arab and Islamic countries.

The White House on Friday announced that Obama would deliver a speech in Egypt on U.S. relations with the Muslim world on June 4 as he seeks to repair damaged ties between America and Islamic countries.

But the Brotherhood's deputy leader, Mohammed Habib, said he was skeptical about Obama's intentions, according to comments posted on the group's Web site.

The trip will be "useless unless it was proceeded by real change in the policies of the U.S. administration toward the Arab and Islamic world," Habib said.

"The U.S. administration is attempting to recruit all the Arab states ... to implement its permanent agenda that favors the Zionist entity," he added, referring to the United States' close ties to Israel.

In recent years, Egypt has cracked down on the hard-line Islamic group, jailing hundreds of its members and prohibiting it from officially taking part in political activities.

Though the Brotherhood is banned in Egypt, its members continue to operate hospitals, schools and other charities and has considerable sway among many of the country's 76 million people. Its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold 88 seats in Egypt's 454-seat parliament.

It also has close ties to the militant Hamas, which began as an offshoot of the Brotherhood in the 1970s and now controls the Gaza Strip.

In late December, Israel launched a three-week offensive on Gaza that killed about 1,400 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Israel, which says the death toll was lower, launched the attack in response to militant rocket fire, but the destruction in the coastal strip caused outrage among many Arabs.

The Obama administration has refused any dealings with Hamas but has reached out to U.S. adversaries Syria and Iran, which were isolated by former President George W. Bush.

Obama, whose father was a Muslim from Kenya, said in Turkey last month that the United States "is not and never will be at war with Islam."

In his inaugural address in January, he told the Muslim world "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist," and he gave his first televised interview as president to the Arabic satellite TV station Al-Arabiya.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that Obama chose Egypt because it "in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world."

While the Brotherhood was critical of Obama's decision, Egypt's state-run media praised it.

Pictures of Obama and President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country since 1981, were splashed on the front page of the daily newspaper Al-Gomhoria. In the front-page story, the paper's editor-in-chief said Obama's choice to speak in Egypt "affirms that Washington is opening a new page with Arabs and Muslims."

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