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Talking With the Muslim Brotherhood

July 4, 2011

When U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced the U.S. would open some limited communication channels with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, it raised a lot of eyebrows, and not only among Republican opponents.

But it was the only sensible thing to do.

Washington was caught unprepared by the size, timing and energy of the protests in January and February, and by the sudden fall of long-time relaible US-ally Hosni Mubarak. They are aware that because the US supported Mubarak for so long, it has to build new relations with Egypt.

And there’s the lesson of Hamas.

The US promoted free and fair elections in Palestine. When Hamas emerged the clear winner, George W. Bush said, “The Palestinians had an election yesterday, the results of which remind me about the power of democracy.” But, he continued, “On the other hand, I don’t see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can’t be a partner in peace if you have a — if your party has got an armed wing.”(Ironically, Bush never had any trouble dealing with Israel’s Likud Party, which is dedicated to the destruction of the Palestinian state… I’m just saying). We were only prepared to deal with one winner, and when someone else won, we took a stance toward Hamas that plunged people into economic chaos and further destroyed our influence in the region.

This time the US apparently wants to have lines of communication with whoever might be a powerful player in the new elected government.

This is not the first time the US has dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood. The US talked to them via backchannels (mostly leaders who fled to Saudi Arabia) in Gamel Abdel Nasser’s day, when Washington feared Nasser’s flirtations with the USSR, and a July 1st  story in the Saudi Arabian newspaper Al-Khaleej claims the US had some clandestine talks with the Muslim Brotherhood during the George W. Bush administration.

What I’m hoping is that this represents a more rational US policy toward “moderate” Islam. The Bush administration said it wanted to reach out to moderate Islamic leaders, but it quickly became apparent that what they really meant were pro-US clerics. Unfortunately, after rising civilian casualties in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the boycott of Palestine and other events, pro-US Muslim leaders were in pretty short supply.

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