Cornelis Hulsman: 70 % of the Westerners view about Arabs deformed
– Time needed to judge Obama, criticize his policy
-The Islamists required sticking to democracy
– The West fears the contradiction it sees in Arabs
-The Muslim Brotherhood is moderate but it has some disadvantages
– Dialogue requires perseverance, mutual trust to bring it to success
– Western governments accept tyranny because they fear Islamists
Cornelis Hulsman is the director general of Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation and editor-in-chief of “Arab-West Report”. He has a complete view around the region. He also has a life which is full of experiences.
He studied in Leiden University in The Netherlands majoring in the field of Sociology. He focused on the Muslim and Arab world in his studies from a sociological perspective. He also worked in the Dutch Emigration Service until he came to Egypt in 1994 to work as a correspondent for a newspaper, and radio and TV stations.
In 1997, he started his work in the field of translation, making reports on the Arabs and the West, and focusing on developments on the Muslim world at the social level, and giving a complete portrayal about the Muslim and Arab world to the whole world, in contrast to what some international organizations do.
Ikhwanweb holds this interview with him to open with him files on the Middle East, Obama, and Islamic movements, and his view on what is taking place.
The following is the transcript of the interview
A matter of time
Ikhwanweb: Let”s start with the biggest incident in the region, Obama”s speech delivered in Cairo to the Muslim World to honour the agenda of change which he is preaching. Has Obama realized what he wishes?
Hulsman: I do not know whether what Obama aspires to, is taking shape. Actually, there is a strong US opposition, and the United States isn”t run by an individual-based policy but rather by policies of institutions even if this person is strong and his agenda is appealing. There is for example the Congress plus other US decision making institutions.
I”d like to point out that Obama has achieved something positive: The change in the US discourse to peoples of the region.
Ikhwanweb: But does this discourse have an impact on peoples?
Hulsman: Definitely, it will have a positive effect, and the general atmosphere and public mood towards the United States will change. However, I”d like to stress that it needs time to judge him well and to see whether this change is permanent, temporary, strategic or tactical.
Ikhwanweb: Well, how have you read Obama”s speech?
Hulsman: I attended the meeting, heard the speech, and noticed enthusiasm of the Egyptians while they were listening to the speech, and I attributed this to the fact that they heard something new and different from Bush”s era. The question that first struck my mind was: Will Obama be able to implement this speech in the real world. The answer is it needs time to see what he will do.
I”d like to point out that the statements that he gave about the Muslim world weren’t new as he gave such statements before he was elected president, and released them when he assumed office which is good. Therefore, I”d like to stress that it needs time to know Obama”s intentions exactly and to see results of his slogans, taking into account that no US president has ever done what he has done. Obama knows the Muslim World many things due to his origins. This positively affects the relations. On the other hand, Bush knew nothing about Islam and the Muslim world and was easily affected by his anti-Islam advisors who were involved or close to Zionist movements.
Bush played on the western view to the Muslim world which mainly focused on the Palestinians-Israeli conflict, a conflict that has definitely affected the western view about Muslims and constitutes a pivotal point in building the relations.
Ikhwanweb: But some Arabs see that Obama uses soft diplomacy replacing what Bush has taken with tough diplomacy without repeating the same scenario?
Hulsman: This is a needlessly widespread conspiracy theory which is not positive, and it does not positively lead to improving relations with the West. It rather closes the door in front of any possible improvement of relations. Therefore, we should wait and see what he may do to speak about it after that and we will then have the right to strongly criticize Obama”s policies.
We should bear in mind that he visited a Muslim country before visiting Israel, a very good and strong step, although he has just assumed office and no US president has taken such a step before him.
Ikhwanweb: They also say that his speech satisfied both dictators and those seeking freedom at the same time?
Hulsman: Obama mentioned in speech the word “democratization” and he received a heated applause from those attending in the hall, and he heard positive comments from attendees, this was a clear statement showing the regime in Egypt that democracy is important.
Ikhwanweb: If the speech was directed to the Muslim World, let”s see Islamists who raise slogans calling for applying Islam on the ground, what do you think of the Islamists?
Hulsman: My personal view is that we should not mix between religion and the politics; something committed by political Islam movements and was committed by Bush as well. This is because when we mix, we hazardously manipulate religion to achieve political targets.
There is the clear example when Bush declared that his war on Iraq was because he received a message from God before launching it. This is called manipulation with religion.
Ikhwanweb: Shall we prevent them from joining political life?
Hulsman: No, but we should allow them to have a political activity but they should change their view towards rule and not mix religion with politics when they form governments.
Ikhwanweb: Will they remain opposing is that it?
Hulsman: Well, there are some groups that claim separating between religion and politics although they really don”t do so. When it assumes rule, the West wonders: What will happen after that?
Therefore, Islamists should believe that political multiplicity is inevitable at any time so that the West becomes ensured. Also, human rights, freedom of expression and the rights to criticism and opposition with full freedom must be ensured.
Take for example the religious supervision whether from Al-Azhar or the church, whose drivers exert huge efforts to stop publishing various books.
Therefore the question repeats itself: in case any Islamic movement assumes rule, will this or something else happen? This is what worries the West.
There are moderates
Ikhwanweb: Does this mean that the West puts all Islamic movements in the same basket?
Hulsman: Personally speaking, I can not put moderate movements and others in one basket. This is because even in the same movement or same institutions we find different views. Therefore, I can not put both the Muslim Brotherhood for example with Al-Qaeda in one basket. This is the problem that faces the West that finds different voices saying they are the true Islam.
Although I don”t agree with political views of some Islamic movements I can”t close the door in front or ban any of them. The door of dialogue must be opened for all so as to understand each other.
Ikhwanweb: Let”s move closer, there is Hamas movement”s experience in Palestine at the political level especially that it is a resistance movement at the same time, how do you project this on Hamas?
Hulsman: In 2006, I was visited in Cairo by former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt after Hamas won, and he said to me: The West is marked by hypocrisy, it demanded the Palestinians hold free elections then it refuses to deal with Hamas as a political entity”. I agree with him in this, although I don”t entirely agree on what Hamas does because I do not live in Gaza .Therefore, I can”t judge it well as an Islamic movement that entered political life, but what reaches me and reaches the West is the ongoing clash between Hamas and Fatah and Hama”s military showdown in Gaza, the latter is undemocratic as it covered by multiplicity and the western world has definitely- like me- been impressed by this and taken views.
Ikhwanweb: How can this be solved?
Hulsman: Through explanation and dialogue, because the problem is that the Arabs are good listeners to themselves. Once I attended a conference on dialogue between Arabs and the West and I was the only westerner and there was only one language: Arabic.
Ikhwanweb: How can the West gain assurance from Islamists?
Hulsman: The main point is to show respect to multiplicity of views, human rights the circulation of powers and justice. This does not mean that Islamists on every thing with those disagreeing with them. However, the dialogue may be a decisive factor.
In Egypt, a writer called Sayyed Al Qemni stopped writing after he received a threatening message from an Islamic movement. Also, Muslim Brotherhood members refused earlier to hold a dialogue with Dr. Nasr Abou Zaid around Islam and his ideas although he wanted an open dialogue, and Al-Azhar neglected my attempt to arrange for an interview with Dr. Abu Zeid.
The West fears Islamists assuming rule because the Islamists have no clear view for the rule while it agrees with a dictator secular government because it feels secured with it.
Ikhwanweb: Can we eradicate this fear?
Hulsman: Yes, of course this fear can end if the West feels that the Islamists work seriously to achieve justice and to approve human rights and multiplicity. However, the problem is that some Islamists issue worse statements. Also, a group in the weight of the Muslim Brotherhood keeps silent in some situations in which it should speak out and clearly declare its views so as to be studied. If the Muslim Brotherhood continues like this, it will be futile.
A liberal writer called Tarek Hijjy spoke about the concept of “governance” according to Islamists but received no feedback from Islamists to know the other view. Therefore, a comprehensive dialogue must be held anywhere without public attendance so as not to play on public feelings then the results should be very clearly announced.
Dialogue is important
Ikhwanweb: Do you see that the current human rights situation in the Arab world is good for this?
Hulsman: It is important first to hold dialogue to spawn trust. If Egypt for example is not suitable we should go to other places like Europe, I will welcome this as s soon as I return to the Netherlands.
Ikhwanweb: Let”s move to Islamic movements in the West, have these movements offered a positive image?
Hulsman: The problem in the West is that they do not know who speaks in the name of Islam. There are imams who have unacceptable views while some say that they do not represent Islam. This perplexes the West.
I have positive attitudes with US Cairo Organization, but this is not a full support to it.
In this context, I expect that moderate Islamists in the West may give a positive image, if they faced extremism of some of them. This happened at the killing of Dutch director Van Gogh which triggered some remarks rejecting this.
Declaration of attitudes
Ikhwanweb: As for the Muslim Brotherhood, do you know anything about its history?
Hulsman: What I know about the Muslim Brotherhood is that Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna was assassinated, and that he has a brother, Jamal Al Banna who said “If my brother had lived, his ideas would have grown and developed”.
Ikhwanweb: Assess the Muslim Brotherhood?
Hulsman: There is fogginess in the group”s internal attitudes. Statements by Mostafa Mashhour, the late Brotherhood chairman, asking the Copts to pay “the tribute” and The Muslim Brotherhood leaders denied this completely. This actually feeds the fear aspect.
In Ain Shams region, rumours have recently spread saying that the Muslim Brotherhood are behind preventing turning a clerical floor to a place of worship and from the Muslim Brotherhood there issued no statement to deny such claims.
It isn”t sufficient for the Muslim Brotherhood to appoint Coptic Rafik Habib, a political adviser for the Muslim Brotherhood”s chairman. A dialogue should be held with the bigger part that Rafik Habib does not represent at the Coptic level for example.
I stress that the Muslim Brotherhood”s is not a white or black chapter but we always need their clarifications and their clear declaration of their attitudes.
Ikhwanweb: Do you accept that the Muslim Brotherhood assumes power in fair elections?
Hulsman: Of course yes because I respect the will of voters and free elections, but they should- along with their winning- abide by multiplicity, disagreement on views and giving the chance to a writer like Sayyed Al Qimnito write, without fearing plays on public feelings.
The group should stick to democracy on the internal level so as no doubts are raised over its democracy when it assumes rule.
Ikhwanweb”: What is the Muslim Brotherhood required to do, according to you?
Hulsman: I want it to stick to democracy, circulation of power, hold dialogues and talks with those with opposite views and those criticizing political Islam and to focus on the content not feelings.
The way to democracy
Ikhwanweb: Is democracy endangered in the Arab world to prevent Islamists from reaching rule, according to observers?
Hulsman: In Egypt for example, opposition parties compromise democracy like the ruling party. This happened in Wafd Party when Nouman Gumaah refused the presence of his rival in the party and his insistence on continuing heading the party.
Ikhwanweb: How can the Arab world attain democracy, is there any hope for this?
Hulsman: Yes, if they stick to practicing democracy in all institutions so that the ones assuming rule are the ones who were trained to apply it.
I criticize the Muslim Brotherhood, as the group sticks to its chairman for life like Mubarak who sticks to rule till the end of his life.
Ikhwanweb: Due to experience: How far has your view to the Arab world changed?
Hulsman: It has greatly changed due to seeing the daily reality and it”s changed by up to 70 %. Before I came here, I was affected by the western media, and when I came, I discovered that the image is neither white nor black.
When I return to The Netherlands I will help Islamic organizations and others to hold expanded talks and dialogues between the Arabs and the West to correct the image and bring closer the viewpoints.