The Brotherhood’s relationship with the US

The Brotherhood’s relationship with the US

The relationship between the United States and the Muslim Brotherhood will always remain a complex one. This is not only because of the mistrust between the two parties that has increased during the Bush era, which has dealt with the Islamic world with haughtiness, but also because neither party is willing to engage in an unconditional dialogue.

The question should be what does the Muslim Brotherhood want to discuss with President Barack Obama, not whether the Brotherhood can actually do so.

Since President Obama took office, the Muslim Brotherhood has appeared more willing to engage in dialogue with the United States, especially in light of Obama’s much-touted new discourse about the Islamic world and his desire to turn a new page with it on the basis of mutual respect.

The Brotherhood believes that the time has come for Obama to mend what the neo-cons have destroyed and to re-examine US foreign policy in the Middle East.

The Brotherhood’s need for dialogue with Obama has increased in light of his diplomatic approach towards Iran, Syria and the Taliban.

But the group has set three preconditions for dialogue with the Obama administration. The first pertains to the US stance on the Egyptian regime.

The Brotherhood have serious doubts about the ability of President Obama to boost freedom and democracy in Egypt, and they are confident that Obama will not place pressure on the Egyptian regime to improve the record of liberties and political reform because Obama needs Egypt’s support in the Palestinian issue.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s misgivings about Obama are corroborated by the very fact that he has not mentioned a word about democracy in the Middle East since his inauguration two and a half months ago.

The second condition is that the Obama administration should reconsider its position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly with regard to the need to recognize Hamas as a key player in the Palestinian arena. In this regard, there seems to be a divergence between the stances of the Brotherhood and the United States, which will not sacrifice its relationship with Israel for dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The third condition is that the Obama administration should change its outlook on Islamists in general, distinguish between extremists and moderates and desist from trying to dominate the Arab and Muslim world.

But can the Muslim Brotherhood engage in dialogue with Obama even if the US president considers these conditions?

I believe there are two obstacles to the Muslim Brotherhood’s dialogue with Obama: the Brotherhood’s concern that a dialogue with Obama will erode their popularity on the Egyptian street; and their fear of the suppression of the Egyptian regime, which may intervene to stymie any dialogue between the Brotherhood and the United States.

Although the opportunities for dialogue between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Obama administration are not so good, it is not impossible and it could be the Brotherhood’s first step towards gaining legitimacy.

This takes us to the most critical question: will Obama put pressure on the Egyptian regime to grant the Muslim Brotherhood a license to form a political party?

Khalil Al-Anani is an Egyptian expert on political Islam and democratization in the Middle East and is a senior fellow at Al-Ahram Foundation. E-mail: [email protected].

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