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Monday, January 9, 2012

America’s Extreme Dealings With Extremists

The U.S. has indicated readiness to deal with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood after years of adamant resistance to the mere thought of them in power. This shift in positions is indicative of the new reality on the ground in Egypt and will undoubtedly translate to the rest of the region one country at a time.

Another shift that is not being discussed out in the open yet, is a surprising relaxed policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan’s Taliban -- the same repressive Islamist government the U.S. went to war against in 2000 and removed from power. The group has been on the run for years and the target of repeated U.S. air raids. The Taliban teamed up with al Qaeda and spearheaded hundreds of deadly attacks against U.S. and NATO troops all over Afghanistan and the Pakistan border. Now the Taliban are back in the news for opening offices in the Gulf state of Qatar, home of the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.

Perhaps both instances are related as they reflect the realities on the ground and show that the U.S. has no choice but to re-think and re-design its foreign policy.

Following the Muslim Brotherhood’s solid win in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the U.S. has started a diplomatic rapprochement that would have been out of the question a year ago. Make no mistake about it, the U.S. has no choice but to deal with the ultra conservative group despite its known ties to Hamas and Hezbollah and its animosity to Israel and the United States by extension. It is a significant move reflective of a flexible Obama administration that is able to re-assess and re-adjust policy to match the new realities.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been also sending positive messages out explaining their interest in focusing on building the economy and ensuring freedom and dignity for all Egyptians. There are red lines that the group is avoiding to discuss at this point such as human rights in general and women and minorities rights in particular. Their position on honoring the existing peace treaty with Israel remains unclear. While we can safely predict where the Muslim Brotherhood would like to take Egypt and the region, it is clear that Egypt is dependent on foreign aid, especially U.S. aid. Egypt will also have to interact with the world to progress and govern in a way that insures Egypt’s positioning in the region and internationally.

This move by the U.S. sets a precedent and sends a message to other extremist groups in the region that America understands the changes on the ground and as a result is seeking engagement. If this approach had been applied instead of the “You’re either with us or against us” policy of the Bush administration, things would not have been so extreme. That policy empowered the extremists, alienated the moderates, and robbed minorities of any influence they had.

It’s a tough balancing act for the United States. If handled right by all sides, an open and engaging U.S. policy can bring much needed stability to the region. If not, it can spell disaster of major proportions.

View This Column In Arabic

1 Comments:

Keep the conversation going...

OpenID daninstockholm said...

It is interesting to see the US forced to deal with the "new Middle East" on different terms. Especially when you consider that they gave so much support and even sold arms to Al Queda. I suppose that, as China does and as the former USSR did before, they can always be counted on to do what's in their best interest.

January 10, 2012 at 11:14 AM  

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