With PowerPoint presentations and political promises, Egypt's influential Muslim Brotherhood made its US diplomatic debut this week hoping to persuade Washington that the Islamist group is committed to democracy and rule of law.
A delegation from the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the once-banned Islamist movement, has been making the Washington rounds talking to officials and think tank experts about their growing role as Egypt heads toward its presidential election.
"We are here to start building bridges of understanding with the United States," Sondos Asem, a member of the party's foreign relations committee and editor of its official English language website, said at a forum at Georgetown University in Washington.
But at the same time it is making promises to the Salafists, too:
A democracy where the laws are decided and approved by a hand-picked group of unelected clerics? Congratulations, Egypt!
The campaign dealmaking is a sign of how the Brotherhood, which is Egypt's strongest political movement and presents itself to the public as a moderate force, could be pushed into a more hard-line agenda by competition from the ultraconservatives known as Salafis.
Giving Muslim clerics a direct say over legislation would be unprecedented in Egypt. Specifics of the Brotherhood promise, which Salafi clerics said Wednesday the candidate Khairat al-Shater gave them in a backroom meeting, were not known. But any clerical role would certainly raise a backlash from liberal and moderate Egyptians who already fear Islamists will sharply restrict civil rights as they gain political power after the fall last year of President Hosni Mubarak.
It would also damage the image that the Brotherhood itself promoted for the past year, insisting it does not seek a theocracy in Egypt or to quickly implement Sharia.
Shater met for four hours Tuesday night with a panel of Salafi scholars and clerics, called the Jurisprudence Commission for Rights and Reform, trying to win their support.
The discussion focused on "the shape of the state and the implementation of Sharia," the commission said on its Facebook page Wednesday.
"Shater stressed that Sharia is his top and final goal and that he would work on forming a group of religious scholars to help Parliament achieve this goal," the statement read. The commission is an umbrella group of Islamist factions, mostly Salafis, set up after last year's anti-Mubarak uprising.
A Brotherhood spokesman could not immediately confirm the offer and attempts to reach the head of the commission went unsuccessful.
The promise resembled an item in a 2007 political platform by the Brotherhood, when it was still a banned opposition movement. It called for Parliament to consult with a body of clerics on legislation to ensure it aligns with Sharia. The proposal was met with a storm of condemnation at the time, and the Brotherhood backed off of it.
Egypt Independent also makes it sound like Shater is fighting an uphill battle to win the election as the Islamist vote would be split and a liberal candidate might take advantage of that, but I'm very skeptical. In a runoff election, the voting would go the way that the parliamentary elections went, so the MB candidate just has to make it to that point in order to guarantee an Islamist future for Egypt.