FP contributor gets results (sort of) from Muslim Brotherhood

The FP Memo is one of my favorite sections of the magazine. One of the coolest things about Memos is that, from what people tell us, they often get read by their intended recipients. But rarely do we get such a detailed account as that by Marc Lynch of George Washington University, who penned the ...

598724_071010_akef_05.jpg
598724_071010_akef_05.jpg

The FP Memo is one of my favorite sections of the magazine. One of the coolest things about Memos is that, from what people tell us, they often get read by their intended recipients. But rarely do we get such a detailed account as that by Marc Lynch of George Washington University, who penned the Memo to the Muslim Brotherhood in our September/October issue. 

The Memo is addressed to Mohammed Mahdi Akef (above left, with Lynch), who is the Brotherhood's "Supreme Guide" or titular leader. It urges the banned Islamist organization to seize a window for dialogue with the United States:

[T]oday you have a historic opportunity for such a dialogue. Americans now recognize they are losing the war of ideas in the Arab world, that Islamic extremism is on the rise, and that the promotion of democracy in the region has collapsed. A vigorous debate has ensued in Washington about the Muslim Brotherhood. Some now see you as a relatively moderate force and a potential partner in a common struggle for democracy and against Islamic extremism. But many others see you as an enemy to be confronted, your Islamist agenda as a major source of extremism and anti-Americanism, and your talk of democracy as a deception meant to fool gullible Westerners. How you engage with this debate will have long-lasting repercussions for your relationship with a United States that isn't leaving the region anytime soon. 

The FP Memo is one of my favorite sections of the magazine. One of the coolest things about Memos is that, from what people tell us, they often get read by their intended recipients. But rarely do we get such a detailed account as that by Marc Lynch of George Washington University, who penned the Memo to the Muslim Brotherhood in our September/October issue. 

The Memo is addressed to Mohammed Mahdi Akef (above left, with Lynch), who is the Brotherhood’s “Supreme Guide” or titular leader. It urges the banned Islamist organization to seize a window for dialogue with the United States:

[T]oday you have a historic opportunity for such a dialogue. Americans now recognize they are losing the war of ideas in the Arab world, that Islamic extremism is on the rise, and that the promotion of democracy in the region has collapsed. A vigorous debate has ensued in Washington about the Muslim Brotherhood. Some now see you as a relatively moderate force and a potential partner in a common struggle for democracy and against Islamic extremism. But many others see you as an enemy to be confronted, your Islamist agenda as a major source of extremism and anti-Americanism, and your talk of democracy as a deception meant to fool gullible Westerners. How you engage with this debate will have long-lasting repercussions for your relationship with a United States that isn’t leaving the region anytime soon. 

If you are sincere about seeking meaningful dialogue with the West, then you must tackle this debate now, while it’s hot. But repeating the same tired slogans isn’t going to cut it. Demonstrate that, despite many policy differences, you share two fundamental goals with the United States: democracy in Arab countries and curtailing the influence of al Qaeda.

Last week, Lynch flew to Cairo, where he spoke with “most of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood which isn’t currently in prison” and a number of other bloggers, analysts, journalists, and others. “Most of the leaders had read the memo, and came into the meetings with some detailed criticisms and complaints,” Lynch writes.

Unfortunately, Lynch says, “few were particularly forthcoming with regard to the idea of dialogue,” despite being friendly and generous with their time. Although they were happy to talk with a U.S. academic, the MB members Lynch spoke with evinced little interest in having official political dialogue with the United States.

That may be due to the group’s historic mistrust of Washington, as Lynch suggests. It may also be because Egypt is in the midst of a massive crackdown on dissent, and the Brotherhood is afraid of crossing the government’s red lines. Whatever the reason, it’s clear from Lynch’s account that fostering better mutual understanding between the United States and the Arab world’s oldest and largest Islamist movement isn’t going to be easy.

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