Two Egyptian-born Islamic leaders, scheduled to speak yesterday at a New York University Law School forum on the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, were not granted visas, according to the Department of Homeland Security and the panel organizer.
Kamal Helbawy, 80, the founder of the Muslim Association of Britain, was forced to leave an American Airlines jet bound for New York on Wednesday, minutes before it was to depart Heathrow Airport in London.
A DHS spokeswoman said Helbawy was "inadmissible" but would not elaborate.
Helbawy was to replace Abdel Monem Abul ElFotouh, 56, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood who had been announced as a speaker at the NYU conference two weeks ago but never received his visa in Egypt.
The developments stunned executives at the NYU Law School's Center on Law and Security, sponsor the forum, which included network television terrorism analysts and authors.
Organizers said they learned of the problems Wednesday night.
"Obviously, [the government] thinks it's not a good idea for these people to come here," said Karen Greenberg, the center's executive director. "To our knowledge, they are not dangerous. If the State Department knows something we don't, then it's their call."
Greenberg said she invited Helbawy last Friday, when it became clear ElFotouh was not going to receive his visa in time for the forum. She added that ElFotouh believed he had been approved for a visa.
She said the two were invited because they have insight on the Brotherhood that the other panelists do not.
ElFotouh is believed to have led a radical resurgence of the group in the 1970s, although today he is regarded by many watchdogs as a moderate.
He was also among 62 group leaders sentenced to five years in prison in Egypt in 1995 for their alleged role in a failed coup.
Helbawy, a former European spokesman for the Brotherhood, a worldwide Islamist movement, described himself to Newsweek as a moderate who has denounced terrorism "thousands of times."
"This is stupidity," he told the magazine's Web edition. "They shouldn't be preventing moderates from talking and discussing."
Nick Fielding, a British journalist and panelist, decried the absence of Helbawy last night, and called him a "voice for reason."
But Steven Emerson, a terrorism and national security expert who has studied the Muslim Brotherhood, said of Helbawy, "This guy is anything but a moderate."