A senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood failed to show up for a prominent public address in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon, sparking multiple questions and confusion among participants of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s (WINEP) annual conference.
WINEP's Soref Symposium focuses on the many challenges facing the Middle East, including democracy in Egypt and the ongoing civil war in Syria. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is scheduled to address the conference Thursday evening.
Helmy el-Gazzar, secretary general Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Freedom and Justice Party’s office in Giza, was flown by WINEP to Washington, D.C,. on Wednesday for a public address at the group’s annual Soref Symposium.
However, el-Gazzar failed to appear when the conference began Thursday afternoon, sparking speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood’s senior leadership ordered him to stay silent.
Muslim Brotherhood leader "Helmy el-Gazzar was flown to DC by @washinstitute & given a hotel room [at the Ritz-Carlton] to participate in panel w/Sadat," WINEP fellow Eric Trager tweeted. "Gazzar didn't show to speak."
El-Gazzar arrived in D.C. and checked into the Ritz-Carlton on Wednesday. Sources say he has since checked out.
WINEP told the Washington Free Beacon multiple officials are trying to trying track him down currently. It remains unclear where in D.C. he may have gone, or if he is even still in the city.
El-Gazzer said in Arabic that "he did not speak because he rejects the Zionist conspiracy," according to WINEP's Trager, who informed the Free Beacon of El-Gazzer's comments. "He also claims to have paid for the hotel himself."
"We have just seen the most famous empty chair since Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention," Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute said as the event came to a close.
WINEP had hoped to engage in "a broad dialogue" with el-Gazzar, yet "it seems he did not want to engage," WINEP executive director told attendees as the event began.
El-Gazzar did not inform WINEP in advance that he had decided to cancel.
El-Gazzar was slated to discuss the current state of Egypt along with opposition party leader Anwar E. el Sadat, who addressed attendees on his own.
The Muslim Brotherhood is known to operate as a top down organization. Its members take sworn oaths to follow their leaders’ commands. Given the organization’s structure, it is possible el-Gazzar was directed to cancel his address.
"He was invited; [WINEP] paid for two tickets to D.C. (for him and his assistant) and two hotel rooms," one source close to the conference told the Free Beacon. "We sent a letter on our letterhead to invite him, which is how he got his visa."
The Free Beacon will update this story as more information becomes about el-Gazzar’s whereabouts and reason for canceling his appearance become available.
Update, 9:55 a.m.: WINEP contacted the Free Beacon to clarify its earlier Arabic translation of El-Gazzer's comments regarding his refusal to participate in the Soref Symposium. El-Gazzer said in an Arabic statement translated by WINEP that he "withdrew from the conference to refuse normalization with Israel ... and [that] I paid the costs of my travel and my stay in America completely."