Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Obama prepares to live with Islamism

From The Washington Post, Friday, March 4, 2011, by Scott Wilson:

The Obama administration is preparing for the prospect that Islamist governments will take hold in North Africa and the Middle East, acknowledging that the popular revolutions there will bring a more religious cast to the region's politics.


...None of the revolutions over the past several weeks has been overtly Islamist, but there are signs that the uprisings could give way to more religious forces. An influential Yemeni cleric called this week for the U.S.-backed administration of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to be replaced with Islamist rule, and in Egypt, an Islamist theoretician has a leading role in drafting constitutional changes after President Hosni Mubarak's fall from power last month.

A number of other Islamist parties are deciding now how big a role to play in protests or post-revolution reforms.

Since taking office, President Obama has argued for a "new beginning" with Islam, suggesting that Islamic belief and democratic politics are not incompatible. But in doing so, he has alarmed some foreign-policy pragmatists and allies such as Israel, who fear that governments based on religious law will inevitably undercut democratic reforms and other Western values.

Some within the U.S. intelligence community, foreign diplomatic circles and the Republican Party say Obama's readiness to accept Islamist movements, even ones that meet certain conditions, fails to take into consideration the methodical approach many such parties adopt toward gradually transforming secular nations into Islamic states at odds with U.S. policy goals.

Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories have prospered in democratic elections and exert huge influence. Neither party, each with an armed wing, supports Israel's right to exist, nor have they renounced violence as a political tool.

...[Jonathan Peled, the spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington] said Israel fears that "anti-democratic extremist forces could take advantage of a democratic system," as, he said, Hamas did with its 2006 victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections. Israel allowed Hamas to participate only under pressure from the George W. Bush administration as part of its stated commitment to promote Arab democracy.

...The goal of Islamist movements after taking power is at the root of concern expressed by Republican lawmakers and others in Washington.

...After Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the United States and Israel led an international boycott of the government. But Obama administration officials, reviewing that history with an eye toward the current revolutions, say the reason for the U.S. boycott was not Hamas's Islamic character but its refusal to agree to conditions such as recognizing Israel.

In a speech Monday in Geneva, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to draw on that lesson, implicitly inviting Islamist parties to participate in the region's future elections with conditions. "Political participation," Clinton said, "must be open to all people across the spectrum who reject violence, uphold equality and agree to play by the rules of democracy."
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