To Engage or Disengage…That is the Question?

To Engage or Disengage…That is the Question?

Although the Obama administration is only just starting, observers are already noting a distinct change in the prominence and tone of U.S. public diplomacy, specifically with respect to the Muslim world. One of the first sit down interviews was with the Arab channel Al-Arabiyyah and also Obama’s choice of Turkey to be one of the stops in his presidential foray and at the beginning of his term, Obama declared that he was ready to engage the Muslim world.. All of this appears refreshingly dynamic, but are those steps show his favouritism to engaging Muslims and Islamic groups in the political sphere and what are the Americans, the Arabs and Muslims reaction to this change of policy?

In this article i will try to cite some of the different reactions towards this change of tone and the tendency to engage Islamic groups,

By visiting Prime Minister Erdogan, Obama is overtly reaching out to what Americans would call “moderate” Islamists. Going to non-Arab Turkey also appears to be an effort to separate US relations with Muslim countries from US policy toward the Arab world.

Moreover, a group of foreign policy luminaries headed by Shadi Hamid signed an open letter to President Barack Obama the letter calls on Obama to make support of democratic self-determination and freedom of political expression a centrepiece of his policy towards the Arab and Muslim world. It”s a far cry from democracy promotion, and closer to democracy support, as outlined in this CSIS white paper published on 10 March 2009, the letter also highlights that the US”s relationship with the Muslim world has been troubled, and it elaborates the case that out of the misjudgements of the George W Bush years a new and principled American approach to support for democracy and human rights can arise.

In Juan Cole’s new book, Engaging the Muslim World, he stressed that America Anxiety and Islam Anxiety can be overcome by better information and more intensive dialogue and negotiation.

Cole argues it will not hurt to engage the Muslim Brotherhood and I would include Hamas and Hezbollah”s political wings too. After all if we are considering talking to the Taliban, we should consider talking to any and all people. He also echoes Muslims demands and states that Muslim publics are forthright in saying what they want.

They want the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan and they want the Palestinians to cease being stateless and oppressed by a foreign military occupation that is expropriating them and/or depriving them of basic rights of life and property. They also would like more actual civilian development aid rather than grants of F-18s to their generals. And they want more easily to be able to travel to and learn from the United States. Cole thinks that the Obama administration could hope to give them a majority of the things they say they want. We don”t, in other words, have to be at war or to recreate the cold war, this time with the Muslim world instead with international communism. Muslims like democracy and private property way too much to be good stand-ins for the commissars.

On the other hand the reaction against change of policy can be clearly manifested in Frank Gaffney’s calls to disengage Muslims particularly the Muslim Brotherhood as he considers President Obama’s new policy of engaging Muslim world as embracing the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood – an organization dedicated to promoting the theo-political-legal program authoritative Islam calls Shariah and that has the self-described mission of “destroying Western civilization from within.”

Gaffney also expressed his disagreement to Obama’s participation of “Alliance of Civilizations”. ‘The Alliance is a United Nations-sponsored affair that reflects – as, increasingly do most things the United Nations is involved in – the views of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The OIC is made up of 57 Muslim-majority nations. Thanks to support from Saudi Arabia and its proxies, the Muslim Brotherhood has become a driving force within the Conference and their agendas largely conic.’ Gaffney added.

It is also worth noting some of different think tank reactions as was presented in the debate, which side of history?, published in Middle East Strategy at Harvard, a very important point was mentioned stressing that if Obama’s administration engaged the Islamic groups including the Muslim Brotherhood would this be a wise move? As Tamara Cofman Wittes said,

‘In Egypt the Brotherhood feels no pressure to debate their ideas publicly, and so we can’t really know how to evaluate their real intentions. Because Egypt ’s government so severely restricts political organization and debate, that the local Brotherhood is relatively unchallenged in the public sphere, and is in the enviable position of serving as an empty vessel for the hopes and resentments of Egyptians.’

It is quite clear that the Muslim Brotherhood always state that they don’t want to be a banned organization, MB suffered a lot from the regime and we never got a chance to present our plan for reform.

It is also worth mentioning that in Democracy different political parties have to have a say even if they don’t all agree, so even if the U.S government doesn’t like what the Muslim Brotherhood have to say but in a democratic world U.S have to accept MB’s input if it is going to halt the corruption the people suffers from and if it is going to be for the best interest of the country and the people living in this country. Moreover, who is better to decide if it is a good plan for reformation better than Egyptians themselves. In answering the question of engaging or disengaging the Muslim Brotherhood I say let people decide for themselves, let people see the picture clear with no preconceived ideas about what might and might not happen.

In elections for the upper house of Parliament during June 2007, the organization claims it wished to field 10,000 candidates for the 52,000 positions on offer. Over 6,000 Brothers filed the requisite paperwork, and 2,664 of those obtained court orders affirming their right to compete after being excluded by the security-bureaucratic machinery. The authorities ignored the judicial decisions. Only 20 of the Brothers made it onto the ballot. All lost as hundreds of the Brothers’ candidates and campaign workers were imprisoned.

Moreover, the young women that spoke about choosing the MB, as J. Scott Carpenter said, they are choosing the Muslim Brotherhood because they have no other opposition to support than Islamist ones, but did it occur to him that the Muslim Brotherhood have clear agenda on how to run all affairs and end the corruption.

How many reports the U.S and European governments and organizations are going to write and make before they realize that it is the people in the middle east’s turn to decide what they want, and I guess if it was all about Democracy then giving us a chance to be active and participate in the political sphere would be the judge if we can bring about change or not and not just mere speculations.

So Obama has the power, and probably the wisdom, to change America”s misguided course in the Middle East. Whether he has the will, or the support, is another question. And at the end only time will tell.

* Ikhwanweb Editorial Desk