Islamist policy shift?
In his recent speech in Cairo, President Barack Obama stated that “America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.”
According to Middle East expert Marc Lynch, these comments suggest that the Obama administration may be willing to accept the participation and potential victories of Islamist movements in the democratic process.
If the president”s wording marks an actual shift in policy, it could have important consequences for democracy promotion in the Middle East, perhaps most noticeably in Egypt. Accepting the probable electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood, which renounced violence more than three decades ago and provides important services to many Egyptians, is a necessary step for pushing for democratization in the country. The organization is the primary opposition to the Mubarak regime and has widespread support among the people.
Many have argued that Islamists are inherently anti-democratic and that after taking power through elections they would be unwilling to give it up. While these organizations do tend to advocate illiberal positions on issues such as minority and women”s rights, most accept democracy”s legitimacy, and Islamist parties have already competed in elections around the world, often with moderating results.
In the past, Islamist organizations of all kinds were lumped into the threat category, despite the vast differences among them. Moving toward a more nuanced view of Islamism that accepts the political participation of peaceful Islamist movements would add a needed level of realism to U.S. policies in the Middle East.