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The Providence Journal (Rhode Island)

Another Futile PR Stunt Abroad

Alaa Bayoumi

DOHA, Qatar -- PRESIDENT BUSH has a unique ability to stick to his policies and rhetoric even if reality and practice prove them wrong. His recent announcement that he will appoint a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is no anomaly.

The OIC is an inter-governmental grouping of more than 50 Muslim countries, the largest of its kind. However, since established in 1969, it has been unable to transform itself from a forum for Muslim governments into an effective international Muslim organization that helps the aspirations of Muslim peoples through an action-oriented mandate and agenda.

Yet, the OIC remains, in the eyes of ordinary Muslims around the globe, a symbol of the wished-for Muslim unity. Its main goals emphasize the need to strengthen "the struggle of all Muslim people to safeguard their dignity, independence and national rights" and to coordinate between the Muslim states to "support the struggle of the Palestinian people and assist them in recovering their rights and liberating their occupied territories." These are goals that are widely shared by ordinary Muslims all over the world.

Bush's decision to appoint a special envoy to such an organization might be welcomed by some Muslim countries for political and diplomatic reasons. After all, Bush's "moderate" Muslim government allies, the same authoritarian regimes that he wanted to change before his Iraq policy turned disastrous, would like it.

However, could ordinary Muslims welcome it as well? I don't believe so because in the eyes of many Muslims the policies of the Bush administration are the reverse of the OIC goals stated above. Iraq is a fresh example - a central Muslim country transformed by the Bush administration into chaos and civil war. Afghanistan and Somalia are two more examples of Muslim countries slipping into more catastrophe under Bush's watch.

Bush's call for Arab democracy is laughable in today's Arab world, and his Middle East peace process is more pathetic. Since Hamas won, in early 2006, the Bush administration has turned its back on Arab democracy not only in Palestine, but all over the Muslim world. It has also protected Israel's merciless campaign to divide and starve the Palestinian people and to destroy the institutional foundations of their state, which they have been trying to build since the 1990s.

If America's OIC envoy was appointed in another time, Muslims might have welcomed the idea. After all, it is much needed to bridge the growing gap between the United States and the Muslim world. However, Bush's policies, state of denial, and inability to change course are defeating America's interest in winning the hearts and minds of Muslims. For all of the above, the new envoy could be only seen by ordinary Muslims as a new futile public relations stunt, rhetorical speech, and unfulfilled promise.

What Arabs and Muslims around the world really need from the U.S. at this moment is serious policy change. However, they are certain that such change will not materialize, especially under the current American administration.

This is because for this change to happen, it has to come from inside America and the Muslim societies themselves. It cannot come from the governments, which are held captive by their special interests on both sides.

For the desired change to materialize, Muslim societies have to fight their own battle for democracy and freedom. They must also differentiate between America and its government and between Americans and Bush's neo-conservatives.

On the other hand, Americans should confidentially reject isolation, isolationism and the interest groups that are leading America's foreign policy in the wrong direction. Americans must also learn more about their country's policy toward the Muslim world and to make sure that such policy is built on America's true values rather than on policies driven by special interests and elites. I believe that America should always be welcome at the OIC. However, I would urge America to send another envoy at a better time.

Alaa Bayoumi is an Arab journalist and blogger.

© 2007 The Providence Journal Co

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