Ramadan: What was unsaid in Obama’s speech more important than what was said

YONCA POYRAZ DO?AN
?STANBUL


Tariq Ramadan
Islamic scholar and philosopher Tariq Ramadan has said that US President Barack Obama’s speech on May 19 was well-written and delivered, but what was not said in his address was more important than what was said.
“No one can deny that it was a well-written speech. The problem is the difference between the good things said and the policies that are implemented,” said Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, in reference to President Obama’s speech outlining the US policy in the Middle East and North Africa, where popular uprisings against dictatorships started what many call the “Arab Spring.”
According to Ramadan, who answered questions from Today’s Zaman at a press conference on Saturday in ?stanbul, where he has been taking part in “?stanbul Seminars 2011 Overcoming the Trap of Resentment” on May 10-24 at Bilgi University, Obama has not gone far enough in tackling issues in the region.

“When it comes to what happens on the ground, American policies are different depending on the country. For example, in Libya there are geostrategic interests and oil is in control of people who are contesting the Gaddafi regime,” he said. “But Obama is criticizing Syria and taking very symbolic decisions on Syria because it is quite clear that he does not want a regime change even though he is talking about reforming the regime.”

On May 18, the US along with some EU countries, imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and six other senior officials, including the Syrian vice president and prime minister, over what they called the “brutal” crackdown on anti-government protests. The sanctions include restricting arms sales to Syria and freezing the assets, as well as banning the travel, of the president and the six senior officials.

Obama also talked about steps to help grow the economies of Tunisia and Egypt as he announced $1 billion in debt relief for the beleaguered Egyptian economy after the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Ramadan pointed out that when talking about financial aid, Obama mentioned the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“We know what that means — you’re going to have economic dependence,” he said and added that although there are new actors in the region how — among them Turkey, China and South American countries — none of them were mentioned; Obama only talk about the European countries.

Regarding the absence of Turkey in Obama’s speech, Ramadan said that the United States knows about Turkey’s role and importance in the region and mentioned it in different settings, but this time there was no reference to Turkey, showing that “there are other dimensions that we should not forget.” Ramadan underlined that in the last decade, as it opens itself up to the South, Turkey has opened about 50 embassies in Africa, is much more involved in the Middle East and is establishing relations in the Far East.

“Arab countries should think about their obsession with America and Europe,” he said. In Ramadan’s response to a question, he also said that in the near future, it is the European Union which will be more interested in Turkey’s inclusion into the community than will Turkey.

“Turkey is getting to the point which makes it indispensible in anything which has to do with Middle East and Africa,” he said. Ramadan also noted that Obama’s message for the Middle East peace process was positive as the United States administration advocates that Israel withdraw to 1967 border lines but again stressed that actions are more important than words.

Turkish army should stay in barracks

With the fall of entrenched leaders in Egypt and Tunisia this year, and challenges to others in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, the long-time status quo has been shaken in the region. What is going to happen in Tunisia, as well as in Egypt, is quite unpredictable according to Ramadan, who said that he is “cautiously optimistic.”

He also suggested that Tunisians and Egyptians were trained a few years before in Washington and elsewhere to mobilize people in their own countries, but he added that this doesn’t mean that the West can control what will happen next.

Stressing that the uprisings were not “Islamist” and “anti-Western,” Ramadan, who is of Egyptian descent and the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, said that the uprising had no links to the Muslim Brotherhood. “Some of the young generations are much more interested in the kind of Islamism that you have in Turkey than the older generation does,” he said but added that the attraction is not to Turkey’s political system.

“Because you have a democracy still to be achieved. You have to go beyond what is happening now. The only time when you have a true and transparent democracy in Turkey is when the army stays in the army camps. Otherwise, it is a controlled democracy,” he said.

Ramadan also pointed out the importance of a corruption-free and pluralistic society for a true and transparent democracy.

“Any political group, referring to Islam or not, should be involved in the democratic process and accept the rules of the game, which are the rule of law, democratic process before and after elections and refusal of violent extremism,” he said.

Answering a question on Turkey’s Kurdish question, Ramadan said it is not possible to talk about a transparent democracy without talking about Kurds, not just those in Turkey, but also in the region.

“They have rights. We have to accept it. Turkey, Iraq and Syria should listen to Kurds’ legitimate demands,” he said.


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