Following the fall of Mubarak’s regime in Egypt and Ben Ali’s in Tunisia, the most important forts against the ascension of Islamist groups to political power collapsed.
The fall of both the regimes uncovered the sham of “Islamist bogeymen,” and the West is now ready to deal with them as a de facto reality and could find them both politically and financially low-priced. It was not surprising when the US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged making contacts with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood despite the opposition of some members of Congress.
Mr. Mubarak consumed the exploitation of the Brotherhood as bogeymen throughout his years in power, and this is what gave them the front seats in the wagon of political power.
I heard a Western politician saying that political establishments in the West tended to warn politicians against having contacts with Islamist groups and that it was maybe better to engage with Islamists directly.
Following the collapse of Mubarak’s regime, I expect reconciliation between the West and political Islam to take place, at last. The reasons for the lack of engagement between the two in the past are three: Political behavior, violence and Israel’s security.
Today both parties--the Islamists and the West--have moved slightly away from their longstanding positions. The Western governments are ready to deal with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood if the latter changes its behavior. The group has committed itself to a moderate stance that is acceptable to the West. And it has adopted an appropriate discourse and announced its engagement in the democratic process. It has even recently included 100 Christians in its political bloc to exert more pressure on the deposed regime of Mr. Mubarak, who was accused in his final days of being anti-Coptic Christian.
The Muslim Brotherhood group has also distanced itself from Al Qaeda and blamed extremist ideologies on the Islamic Salafism -- their rival Islamist group in the political scene.
In terms of Israel’s security, since the revolution we have not heard any statement from the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood threatening Israel or even vowing to withdraw from the Camp David peace accord, which the group has long criticized during Mr. Mubarak’s rule.
Following the revolution, we heard instead of statements from several Brotherhood leaders saying they would respect Egypt’s agreements with Israel, with the exception, maybe, of the gas deal, which is commercial.
And even regarding the gas deal, the Muslim Brotherhood criticized only the export prices—meaning the corruption that surrounded the deal and not the principle of having an agreement with a party they consider as the enemy. This contradicts their previous stance on the gas deal with Israel.
The independent Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh clearly said he accepts the Camp David accord. When he was asked if he intends to withdraw from the agreement if he is elected president, he replied: “The cancellation of the accord does not mean war and not recognizing Israel does not mean war, either.”
The Israeli ambassador, therefore, will continue in his office overlooking the Nile River if the Muslim Brotherhood takes power. This is quite suitable for the West, which sees that the acceptance of Israel by the Islamists is thousand times more precious than the acceptance of Israel by the liberals and democrats among Arabs.
Egypt and the Arab world will change as such, and the West will discover along the way whether Islamists were in fact rivals or allies. The West could accommodate the Islamists’ agenda of internal governance as long as it does not conflict with its interests.
Was Mubarak’s regime deceptive, therefore, when it portrayed the Brotherhood as a threat to the West? Or, were the Brotherhood dishonest when they were calling for an end to Camp David and expulsion of the Israeli ambassador?
The major mistake Mr. Mubarak’s regime made and Mr. Ben Ali as well was that both of them marginalized the national opposition, believing that it is impossible for the West to deal with radicals due to ideological differences between them. Both the regimes also believed that the West would accept some national movements, such Al Wafd in Egypt and the National Democratic Party in Tunisia, which have no enmity with the West.
In fact, the West is pragmatic and ready to engage with the devil for the sake of its interests. In the 1970s and amid escalated conflict with communism former US president Richard M. Nixon sought to establish relations with China. Islamists will likely be embraced by the West soon.
Translated from the Arabic original by Mustapha Ajbaili of Al Arabiya