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Middle East Politics: Realism Wins
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There are two conflicting moods or trends in the political scene of our Arab region, where Israel is geographically located. On one hand, there is the absentminded and Manichean mood for salvation, and on the other, the realist and co-existential disposition of negotiation. The victorious proponents of either trend will contribute to the history of the Arabs and perhaps even the history of the Muslim world for many decades.

There are people, political parties, and even states that represent both moods. The war between the two has varied in its course and there have been many occurrences in which parties shift between the two camps.

To be more specific, I will start by referring to the reconciliation conference in Cairo, which included some warring Iraqi factions. The meeting was initiated by the Arab League, was supported by the United Nations, protected by Egypt and blessed by the world. The Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and the Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jaafari participated in the conference as well as Sunni parties, and a few possible Baathist. The major Sunni representative was the Muslim Scholars Authority. Muthanna Al Dari son of Harith Al Dari led its mission to Cairo and was the representative voice at the political meeting.

Talabani asserted that he would engage in dialogue with all Iraqis, even those who have joined armed groups including Baathist. Jaafari, leader of the Islamic Dawa Party refused however, as Talabani stood firm to his position. Al Dari on his part has criticized the "extremism" of Jaafari. Nevertheless, despite some points of tension, the dialogue continued successfully. Meanwhile, the representative of the Iraqi Assyrians threatened to withdraw in protest against what he perceived as injustice to his faction. The mediation of the Saudi Foreign Minister however, was successful at maintaining his attendance.

Iraqis debate and disagree in Cairo as they search for mutual grounds. This in itself is a positive and sound step of legitimate disagreement as long as the language of dialogue is political and objections are expressed peacefully. In light of this attitude, the debaters will surely reach a compromise following these rational negotiations. The result represents the realist mood.

However, supporters of the absentminded violent trend expressed their direct rejection to "impose the truth that can never coexist with falsehood of the so called realistic politics." The Baath Party for one refused to take part officially in the Cairo conference and stated that all those who have attended, claiming to represent the Baath, were liars and represent no one but himself or herself.

The leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, responded to Talabani's call for dialogue with the rebels, stating, "The sword and the blood are the only two ways for dialogue." A statement attributed to Al Qaeda in Iraq asserted, "The only dialogue between us and them will be in the form of the sword and bloodshed" (Al Quds Al Arabi, 21 November 2005.)

The horizon of the political dreamers is always limited and overtaken by reality. We may be surprised one day to find that Al Zarqawi has developed shades of grey as politics does, but will he be able to shed the rivers of blood that he has caused that will eventually drown him?

There are many examples that reassure that the final victory will belong to the realists. We have seen the transformation of viewpoint in the leader of Jihadist groups in Egypt, Abud Al Zumur. Al Zumur was imprisoned for over 25 years for the assassination of President Sadat and rejected all the juridical reviews of the Islamist Jihadist revisionist (who moderated their radicalism), but eventually issued a statement calling for the support of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian general elections. This means that after 25 years of rejection, he finally acknowledged the political means that he had previously described as pagan such as elections and representation in parliament. He finally got rid of such delusions bringing him to reality. Last August he issued a statement that encouraged Egyptian political parties not to boycott the presidential elections. He stated that the opposition should unite behind a single candidate to push for the desired change. Indeed, such is a new language that differs greatly to that used by the author of the 'Missing Religious Obligation,' Mohamed Abdel Salam Farag, Abud's former colleague, and the religious ideologue of the group that killed Sadat. Maybe one day Al-Zawahiri will also renounce his language.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood, who see themselves as the pioneers of cultural-political resistance of the Crusading West, by employing notions such as the cultural invasion, cultural and political dependency from the ruling regimes of the West, and the maintenance of the Ummah's identity, have now started to mitigate its hostile language towards the United States. One must however highlight the word mitigate as to eliminate such language altogether would be political suicide. We now hear the general guide of the Brothers in Syria, Ali Sadr Addin Al Bayanouni, in response to a question about dialogue with the United States saying, "We will happily meet any party and clarify our views and positions."

In addition, we listen to the comments of the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme leader, Mohamed Mahdi Akef, who speaks indifferently of power to an Egyptian magazine: "I say it loud and clear, we do not seek power. We want the people to rule themselves." I wonder what Sayyed Qutb would say if he had been around to hear such comments? In March however, Akef tells the Spanish newspaper, La Razon that "we can rule Egypt."

Moreover, Akef referred to the Copts in a sensitive manner. He stated that the Brothers will not ask them for tax according to Islamic Law (Jizyah), nevertheless, his deputy Mohamed Habib, has frequently been quoted as saying, "We will not abandon Islamic law with regards to Coptic affairs."

According to Asharq Al Awsat journalist, Mona Eltahawy, Habib clearly said, "that in our civil state, freedom will only be within a religious framework." This "freedom" is illustrated by the following example. In 1987 while the Muslim Brotherhood were running for the general elections in coalition with the Labor Party, Habib refused to be enlisted on the electoral list of the coalition after a Christian candidate from the Labor party in Assyiut district. The labor party had insisted upon assigning a Copt, Gamal Asad Abdel Malak, as head of their list for that district. Habib, said that a Muslim could not come second after a Christian in a list for a public authority post (see Asharq Al Awsat June 10, 2005.) Such behavior highlights the reality the Brotherhood's thinking and their so-called "transformations in discourse." They are forced to adapt to a realist language. Realism wins, especially now that the Brothers in Egypt are so close to reaching their aim that is if the mutual appeasement between America and the Brotherhood remains intact.

Finally we see that the Authority of Muslim Scholars in Iraq have managed through a realist language to acquire recognition from the new Iraqi government that realizes the resistance as legitimate and condemns terrorism. With the realist language, demands can be met no matter how big or small. However, continuous drastic solutions might be able to achieve some things but may also cause the loss of everything.

By Mshari Al-Zaydi

A Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat's opinion page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others. He has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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