Debating Democracy in the Obama Era
Debating Democracy in the Obama Era
Thursday, April 9,2009 19:29
By Shadi Hamid

I wrote last month about an open letter, which I"ve helped organize, on the need to make democracy in the Middle East a top priority, which was signed by leading American and Muslim scholars and experts. The Washington Post, in an editorial, cited it, saying "[the letter"s] depth and breadth vividly shows that the Obama administration could find many allies for progressive change in the Middle East - if only it looks beyond the rulers" palaces."

Tarek Osman, at OpenDemocracy, offered several critiques of the letter here. I"ve written a response, addressing the open letter"s aims and addressing the concerns of Osman and others:

But Osman is sceptical that there can ever be a rapprochement between America and Islamists, even those like the Muslim Brotherhood that are nonviolent. The United States, he rightly points out, is not so concerned with whether the Brotherhood is sufficiently democratic or whether it accepts the rights of women and minorities. The source of enmity, rather, is a clash of interests. "Pax Americana", Osman argues, "aims to ‘stabilise the region"", and this, of course, includes guaranteeing Israel"s security. Meanwhile, "Islam"s opposition is not time-bound but theological: it sees ‘settling" as a sin, and long-term divinely ordained."

Osman is right that Israel is a major sticking-point, but he paints both America and Islamists in simplistic terms: as unitary, intransigent actors. Between and within Islamist movements, an important debate is taking place regarding the Jewish state. It may be true that individual Islamists harbour a religiously motivated hatred of Israel, but it is also true that beliefs are not always an accurate predictor of behaviour.

You can read the whole thing here.

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