On February 24, John Kerry is expected to launch his first official tour abroad since he took office at the US State Department. His tour will cover nine countries in Europe and the Middle East, among them four Arab states: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Israel and the Palestinian territories have been excluded from this trip on the grounds that Kerry will accompany President Barack Obama when he visits Israel next month.
The media carried statements by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland saying that among the topics Kerry would discuss during his trip was “facing the challenge posed by extremists who want to hijack the achievements of some Arab Spring revolutions”.
This indirectly means Kerry’s discussions with political and civil society leaders in Egypt and the GCC states will focus on the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis. Kerry, before assuming the post of foreign secretary, had said during his confirmation hearing in the Senate that the Muslim Brotherhood needed to respect diversity in Egypt, which had not happened the way the US wanted.
Furthermore, he said at the same hearing that he was the first American to have met Mohammed Mursi before he become president of Egypt, but without knowing that he was a candidate for the presidency, and had spoken to him about the US perception of the democratic trend of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a way, this indicates there is common ground for dialogue between these four Arab countries and the US concerning issues related to the political movements resulting from the Arab Spring revolutions. Kerry’s talks, therefore, will not be limited to the situation in Syria, but also cover the matter of political Islamist groups, which has caused a split among the Arab countries in general and the GCC states in particular. There is growing concern in some countries over the policies of these Islamist groups, and some fear these groups may widen misunderstanding between Arab countries. This fear stems from the increasing tensions between some Arab countries and within some countries, such as Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are competing for influence over the people.
While Saudi Arabia is the cradle of Salafi groups and Egypt the impregnable stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar is a supporter of the Arab people, and the United Arab Emirates has growing fear of the influence of Islamist groups on its territory, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan was quoted as saying at a press conference in October 2012 that some Islamist groups were using their influence and capabilities to violate the sovereignty of states.
Due to the US stance towards the Arab Spring and its current relationship with the regimes produced by these revolutions, many analysts and experts no longer support the theory of conspiring. However, it is important to explore the role America could play in drawing a new map of the Middle East. In this respect, an important question arises, and that is whether Kerry would be able to resolve the split between Arab regimes and Islamist groups.