When and how the international community should engage Islamist movements in the Middle East has become a key question. Intense debate continues as to the importance of engaging with these parties to more successfully mediate ongoing disputes and intractable conflicts in the region.
There are deep fault lines in the Middle East, constructed along radical political lines and primarily expressed through political Islamist movements. These groups, such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, express themselves through political identities which are seen as threats to the governments of the region. They have emerged as a result of a deep sense of powerlessness, injustice, and a failure on the part of the state to address their grievances.
This project aims to refocus the conversation not on whether we talk to Islamist movements, but on what we should be talking about; 'What do these groups provide that the state is unable to offer?' and 'What scope is there to address their agendas through the mechanism of the state? A new paradigm for engagement is required, shaped around a better understanding of these political identities and why large sections of civil society in the Middle East increasingly identify with political Islam. This project, with the support of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, is undertaking work in Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories to help facilitate all-inclusive national dialogues to assist groups to work together to achieve common goals which improve the conditions of all their citizens.
An inaugural meeting was held in 2009. It brought together ministers from Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and other states to discuss common experiences and the possibilities and challenges of an all-inclusive dialogue as a contributor to conflict resolution efforts in the Middle East. This successful meeting led to general support from an inclusive cross-section of groups in both the occupied Palestinian territories and Lebanon for the project to proceed. Today we are actively engaged in bringing the groups together in each location to work together on key issues in order to improve the impact of state-effectiveness, which in turn, will improve the well-being and livelihoods of all their people.
Gabrielle Rifkind is the Director of the Middle East programme at Oxford Research Group (ORG). She is a group analyst and specialist in conflict resolution. Gabrielle combines in-depth political...