Discordant approaches to Islamic movements

As the US edges towards dialogue with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, neo-con rhetoric dominates British politics

A discordant trend is tearing apart the Western alliance and its Middle East policies. The armed intervention in Libya has highlighted this graphically, with the US giving only token assistance to the NATO-led strikes.

Robert Gates, the outgoing US Secretary of Defence, roundly criticised European countries in a valedictory speech in Brussels for reducing their defence budgets. But it is not just the Libyan situation which exposes the dissonance between supposed allies. While the US has decided to be pragmatic in relations with the Middle East’s Islamic movements, Britain remains entrenched in an ideological approach.

Despite a long-standing hostile public posture, the Obama administration has edged cautiously towards dialogue with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots in the region.

Speaking in Budapest last month, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton confirmed that Washington had pursued a policy of “limited contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood” on and off for five or six years. With the political landscape of the region changing, she announced that the US would welcome a more open dialogue. Similar contacts have been made with the Tunisian Nahdah Party.

While a subtle change of direction has been witnessed in relations with the Brotherhood in Egypt, the same cannot be said about occupied Palestine, where Washington’s policy has been ambiguous and restrained. There are two possible explanations for this, the first being the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on US policy in Palestine, while US ambiguity stems primarily from the fact that that, although the Pentagon prefers dialogue with Hamas, the State Department urges caution

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