Sunday, February 1, 2009

Islamists Miss Opportunity

No doubt, Islamist opposition to autocratic regimes sought to capitalize on public anger in the Middle East at the incapability, if not unwillingness, of Arab regimes to come to the aid of Palestinians in Gaza during the Israeli offensive. However, in doing so, the Muslim Brotherhood with its tentacles in various countries, hardly proved any more effective than the very regimes it criticized. "Their discourse (was) not too different from that of the official Arab elite. This fact came across very clearly during Israel's war on the Gaza Strip," says Khalil Al-Anani, a senior fellow at Cairo's Al Ahram Foundation.

The Islamists likely benefited from high-riding, public emotions shocked and angry at what it saw on blanket coverage of the carnage in Gaza. But like Hamas, the Islamists were unable to strike a chord with non-Muslim public opinion and build bridges to international organizations that would help translate public outrage into effective pressure on Western governments. In failing to do so, the Islamists missed an opportunity to broaden the base for calls for an inclusionist policy that would help bring Hamas into efforts to find a long-term Israeli Palestinian arrangement and ensure that Islamists are fully integrated into the political process in Arab countries.

In doing so, the Islamists were wholly identified with Hamas and the notion of military resistance. Like Hamas, they misread anger at the perceived callousness of the Israeli offensive and sympathy with the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinians and wrongly assumed that it would translate into political support for the resistance and the armed struggle. For the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, Gaza constitutes an opportunity missed in terms of building bridges between the Muslim and the non-Muslim world as well as in terms of possibly becoming at player in the Middle East peace process.

Amid debate on whether the two-state solution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict has suffered a lethal blow and whether what can at best be achieved in the wake of Gaza is a long-term truce rather than an definitive peace, the Brotherhood could have set itself up as a potential go-between by accentuating Hamas' long-standing call for a 10-year truce instead of supporting its reversal to demands for an immediate opening of the Rafah crossing linking Gaza with Egypt and a 12-month ceasefire with Israel at best. Such an approach would not have jeopardized the Brotherhood's efforts to exploit the gap between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders and public opinion in their countries.

"The dilemma of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is that it still adopts the mentality of its founder Hassan Al-Banna, which was rooted in its confrontation with the West and the United States regardless of the circumstances and the passage of time," Anani says.

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