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October 23, 2006

Waiting for Futouh
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Issandr el-Amrani reports that prominent Muslim Brotherhood moderate Abdel Menem Abul Fotouh was scheduled to speak on a panel at NYU a few days ago. Surprise, surprise, Fotouh was not able to attend. He, apparently, was denied entry into the US. As a result, the audience had to endure the predictably aimless interjections of several non-experts. I think Peter Bergen is great, but he is expert on Al-Qaeda, not an expert on the Brotherhood.

I can’t believe I actually have to make points which are (or should be) so self-evident to even the most unintelligent of observers - but if we want to understand political Islam, then we have to actually listen to what Islamists themselves say. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with them, support them, or like them. But, considering that the Muslim Brotherhood will, notwithstanding acts of God, come to power in Egypt sooner or later, we should do our best to understand them before we get caught by surprise 10 or 20 years down the road. This is yet another example of how alarmist fears of political Islam coupled with a senseless visa policy damage our strategic perception of Islamism and render us unable to anticipate or pre-empt policy dilemmas.

I interviewed Futouh at length in late July, while the Israel-Hezbollah war was going on, and he had much to say that, I think, would be of interest to US policymakers, if only they’d listen. He is part of the Brotherhood’s moderate “faction,” a faction which grows smaller and more embattled – the not-so-surprising result of the Bush administration’s needlessly polarizing approach to everything Middle-East related. The moderates within the Brotherhood are trying to modernize their organization and prepare it for the give-and-take of democratic politics, but they are having a hard time of it. The deteriorating situation in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, and exponentially high levels of anti-Americanism contribute to an environment that makes being a “moderate” increasingly precarious. But, then again, because we don’t let people like Futouh into our country, we would have no way of knowing that.


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It is US government policy NOT to understand Islam because understanding might lead to empathy and then we would lose an enemy. It's important for the government to always have an enemy. "All governments require enemy governments"--Edward Abbey. Well, perhaps he overspoke and it's not all governments. Costa Rica does fine without an enemy (or an army), but certainly the US depends on enemies, no doubt. The one-and-a-half billion dollars that the US government devotes daily to "defense," the two billion a month for aggressive wars and the domestic repression (particularly of Muslims) wouldn't be possible without one or more enemies. The stock market is at an all-time high so it must be the right policy.
The Commies have been replaced, and just in time, the thinking goes. Now we must prevent the new Caliphate from ruling the world from Indonesia to Spain and I'm sure that the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as a part of that.
The US will stick by the Egyptian dictator while it "brings democracy to the Middle East."

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