Oasis and Mirage: Fulfilling the Promise of Cairo

04/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So what happens when the Islamic world's private, public and civic leaders spend three days with their counterparts from the U.S.? A veritable avalanche of frank dialogue, realistic proposals and the incubation of new ties that will surely facilitate greater U.S -- Islamic understanding and cooperation.

In Qatar, the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy convened its seventh U.S.-Islamic World Forum -- which brought together through this afternoon over 1000 U.S and Islamic attendees.

What was as important as the keynote address by Secretary of State Clinton and the unveiling of major new Obama administration initiatives to bridge the U.S.-Muslim world divide, were the new policy proposals that emerged from this year's Forum.

Here in Doha, one of the hallmarks of the Forum has been the unique role that Brookings and the Saban Center have played since 9/11 to incubate a candid appraisal of U.S.-Islamic world relations and to serve as a crucial catalyst to open new channels of policy deliberation.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza -- an issue largely on the sidelines of America's attention -- was front and center at the Forum. Passionate expressions of Islamic world concern over the plight of Gaza's dangerous social and welfare conditions deeply resonated with their American counterparts. Based on what I heard from the U.S. media attending the event, those concerns will be collectively conveyed when officials attending debrief their counterparts in the Obama administration. Attendees plan to submit a series of new ideas to the White House to promote an effort to break the logjam on humanitarian relief for Gaza's people.

Moreover, Islamic world attendees made very clear their considerable disappointment over the lack of adequate progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process -- disappointment that was preemptively understood and acknowledged by Secretary Clinton in her address and by President Clinton in his video-taped address to the delegates. From the Emir of Qatar to the Prime Minister of Turkey, the message to Secretary Clinton from the Forum's Q&A session with her was that renewed momentum in the peace process was crucial to reverse the slide in the president's credibility throughout the Muslim world.

Aside from the refreshingly two way policy dialogue was the outpouring of philanthropic commitments by Muslim world attendees to link up with their American counterparts to more effectively develop and fund new media initiatives, civil society engagement and inter-faith exchanges.

The inter-faith working group committed to establish a new U.S.-Islamic peace corps to source funding and rebuild damaged religious institutions in the Islamic world as well as to deploy new interfaith web and mobile phone-based platforms to promote faith-based dialogues and philanthropy.

I was wowed by the new social media initiatives that young Islamic entrepreneurs are building to better connect their brethren and with their American counterparts. Moby Group -- based in Afghanistan -- is a media aggregator that is using television, internet and cell phone technologies to produce innovative "bottom up" media and music that the Afghanis themselves create -- not what the government pushes down onto the population.

Dynamic American-Pakistani Amra Tareen -- head of "All Voices," a San Francisco-based new media venture -- has developed an internet citizen-to-citizen journalism platform across the U.S. into the entire Islamic world.

Simon Mainwaring, an Australian who is CEO of Mainwaring Creative, has introduced private sector sustainable branding technologies to civil media platforms to promote "stickiness" among U.S. and Islamic world web-based dialogue to develop "brand loyalty" to new media platforms.

Amr Khaled, a renowned Islamic moderate faith leader, plans a new television series modeled loosely after The Apprentice to help incubate new social and civic enterprises throughout the Arab world.

And young Riyaad Minty of Al Jazeera is developing a new GPS-based web and mobile phone technology to expand Muslim world emergency health care similar to the mobile phone technology that brought emergency aid workers to earthquake victims in Haiti.

In a few weeks the Saban Center website at Brookings will post the specific recommendations emerging from the Forum, which are far too numerous to reference here. I urge you to review how realistic and reasonable the recommendations emerging from the Forum are.

In the final analysis, the Islamic world merits an innovative 21st century engagement commitment from the U.S. if there is any chance of fulfilling the president's Cairo address goal of developing a new era of mutual respect and mutual understanding.

Perhaps no less so, the Islamic world's leaders are going to have to do what some have done here in Doha -- engage Americans, listen to our own aspirations and concerns, and develop a realistic appraisal of America's limits to fulfill their expectations.

The administration's high level representation at Doha -- from the NSC, USAID and State Department is a testament to the USG commitment to promote that goal. But actionable acknowledgment from the Islamic world will not reach the necessary levels until more progress is made on the policy issues that divide us.

In the meantime, the Saban Center is doing God's work to maintain and sustain open lines of communication and catalyze concrete U.S.-Islamic initiatives.

Next year, the eighth U.S.-Islamic World Forum will be held in Washington, D.C. It will bring to our capital this very unique gathering for the very first time. If what I have seen in Doha is representative of what will take place in Washington next year, I hope to snag a ticket.

For those committed to promoting the ideals of the Brookings Saban Center's Forum goals of expanding U.S. ties to the Muslim world, I recommend you connect with its U.S. and Muslim world staff (Brookings/Saban has a branch here in Doha) who will enthusiastically welcome the creative talent, new energy, and passionate commitment that was so evidenced here in Doha this week.