Since at least the Clinton administration, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has propped up dictatorial regimes that were favorable to U.S. and Israeli interests while refusing to engage with the forces of political Islam. Could the current wave of uprisings shaking the Middle East and North Africa force the U.S. to deal with Islamist movements that are integral parts of these societies? That’s what journalist and author Mark Perry argued in a recent Palestine Center panel discussion–a development that would have far-reaching implications for Palestine, among other countries.
Upcoming elections in Egypt could be the first major test for the Obama administration on whether the U.S. will respect the democratic will of Egyptians, regardless of whether the Muslim Brotherhood makes electoral gains.
The Obama administration has sent mixed signals on their stance on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ominously warned against Egyptians allowing their revolution to be “hijacked,” a veiled reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. But President Obama, in a speech given after Hosni Mubarak stepped down, said that “all” Egyptian voices must be brought “to the table.” In an interview with Fox News‘ Bill O’Reilly, Obama said that he thinks “that the Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt. They don’t have majority support in Egypt but they are well organized and there are strains of their ideology that are anti U.S., there is no doubt about it.”
This is what Perry, the author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with its Enemies, said on the subject:
We’re going to have to deal with the governments that emerge from what I think is an unstoppable revolution across the region, and that means talking to political Islam. We’re not going to be able to not talk to Hamas after we talk to the Muslim Brotherhood and we’re going to have to talk to them. So, once we start down that road, of recognizing the political currents and movements that matter in the region, everything else will follow.
Still, it’s clear the pro-Israel lobby, and the American right, will continue to line up against talking to any Islamist movement.