Muslims Tuning in for Obama's Middle East Speech

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: While Egypt will figure prominently in President Obama's speech tomorrow, there will also be other broader themes. That's what Tariq Ramadan is going to be listening for. Ramadan is a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford. He says the Mideast uprisings and the death of Osama Bin laden offer Washington a new opportunity to redefine relations with the Arab world.

Tariq Ramadan: We are opening a new page and we are opening a new way for the future relationship between the United States of American and the Muslims around the world, saying now it's all about democracy, it's all about respecting, and it's all about consistency; because at the end of the day we were so hopeful with the taking over of President Barack Obama when he was saying we are going to end Guantanamo, we are going to end the war in Afghanistan, we are going to solve the problems in Iraq, and still look at was is happening. So we are not solving the problem. These were words, and I think that now we are one year before the election. Islam is going to be a critical issue for the coming year. We all know this, domestically speaking, but also the international level. What is very important now is that we are not going to talk and no longer talking about the war on terror, let us talk about how do we have this relationship fixed in a way which is transparency, democracy, and true respect towards the Muslims around the world, and true respect towards the Arabs. Because the perception is still, still this one -- that the blood of an Arab and the blood of an Iranian is less valuable than the blood of an American. It's not going to work like that. It's really a matter of consistency and respect.

Werman: Don't you think though that the coincidence of the peaceful uprisings in the Mideast and the death of the world's #1 terrorist kind of shows people that you know, there's something about the way forward if you want democracy.

Ramadan: Yes, you are right. I think that this could be a very good opportunity if, and only if, it's not only a symbol, we are not talking about the symbol. It's the death of a symbol. Now we go from the symbol to the reality that now we are serious about you know, democracy process, supporting the people, being clear with all the dictators around the world, and even to push for more transparency; in the petrol markets for example, yes, it could be a better future. But we have to be consistent. The problem that we have is all the talk that's coming from President Barack Obama are very well said, the problem is that they are badly understood by the Arabs around the world, the Muslims, they like him. And this is something that's very important. He has credibility and a very important credential as a person, as himself. But the point is that the American administration doesn't seem to follow you know, the words, by having implementation of policies that are helping the people to see that something is changing. So you are completely right, it's a great opportunity. Let us hope that something is going out of it, which is on the ground, visible signs that the American policy is much more dealing with realities and transparencies, and working against corruption, and helping holding the democracy processes in the Muslim majority countries.

Werman: Still it's hard to imagine a country like Yemen becoming democratic overnight. I mean doesn't Washington have a legitimate fear of more failed states, more Somalis in the region?

Ramadan: Yes, that's true, and I think that once again we are sometimes very too much in a hurry, that we want things to happen as it's happening in Tunisia. And Tunisia is the exception, it cannot be the rule of history. We need time and we need to be aware and cautious. So I am for example, cautiously optimistic in everything which is happening in the Middle East, but we need time. And this is where we need to have something which is not only, and this is what we also have to say to the Arabs and the Muslims around the world, it's all good to listen to the President Barack Obama, but at the end of the day the ball is on our court. This is what we have to understand, that the civil societies in Yemen and the citizens and the people should very be committed, and they should carry on the process where they come together, and all the political parties and the intellectuals should come together to us not only what they don't want, but what they want for the future.

Werman: Tariq Ramadan, you're the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, where do you think Egypt and more specifically, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, is headed?

Ramadan: You know, the Muslim Brotherhood from within, there are lots of tensions between the youngest generation and the oldest generation about what will be the future. As long as they are respecting the rule of law and the constitution, they should be able to speak out and not to be jailed or tortured.

Werman: I'd be curious to know whether you think the aim of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt right now is to create a political order based on the Sunni version of an Islamic state?

Ramadan: There are discussions about the reference to Sharia, for example, in the constitution even among the Muslim Brotherhood. And the second thing which is important is some within the Muslim Brotherhood are talking about [speaking Arabic], which is the single[? 5:10] state, which is no longer something which is called Islamic state. And some among the youngest generation of Muslim Brotherhood are calling for the Muslim brothers to look at what is happening in Turkey, and which way it has evolved over the last decade.I think that all this is disputed from within, is open, is full of tensions, and once again, as long as it's nonviolent and respecting the rule of law, let it be as it should be.

Werman: Tariq Ramadan is professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford. His latest book is The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism. Professor, thank you very much.

Ramadan: Thank you.