Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

To the people of the Arab Spring, consider France! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The speeches of the defeated French President and his newly elected replacement provide an eloquent lesson in the art of practicing political democracy. Following the announcement of the election results which were not in his favor, Nicolas Sarkozy – who is something of a rarity as a French president who failed to win a second presidential term – addressed his audience and supporters, in all humility, conceding defeat and saying: “I have not succeeded…I carry full responsibility for this defeat”. He added that France’s new president had come to power through popular democratic choice and that the French people must be patriotic and united behind him. He finished his speech congratulating his victorious opponent and calling on his supporters to respect the winner, pointing out that the political situation would be different now.

As for François Hollande, France’s President-elect, he did not forget in the euphoria of his victory speech to pay tribute, despite the boos of his supporters, to his defeated rival Sarkozy, who had led the country for 5 years, and as such deserves, according to Hollande, all due respect.

Between the winner and loser of the French presidential election was a difference in terms of votes of less than 4 percent; around 18 million voted in favor of Hollande and 16.9 million voted in favor of Sarkozy. Yet the 16.9 million will not oppose this election result, nor will the 2.1 million who cast blank or spoiled ballots; nobody will object to Hollande being their president for the next five years, even if they disagree with him.

Perhaps this is nothing new in Western democracies which often witness such scenes, where the difference in votes cast between the two candidates is low and everyone nevertheless accepts the results, however the importance of this scenario lies in the lesson it can give to some of the “Arab Spring” republics. These states are going through a stormy transitional period in finding their way forwards, or trying to take their first steps on the path towards political pluralism and democracy. This will be a long road, because democracy is not simply made up of election ballot boxes and a majority and minority.

The basic lesson, which many in the region seem to have set their eyes on, is that the small difference in votes that tipped the balance in favor of one candidate over the other, and the fact that the losing party accepted the loss and responsibility for the result, did not lead to demonstrations or protests in the street, or anyone saying that the people were divided. On the contrary everyone accepted the result, and called for unity and for France to stand behind its new president.

Part of the democratic process is the act of accepting defeat, as long as the competition is open and transparent, and the defeated side is satisfied of this, as is the case with Sarkozy and his millions of supporters who lost, and as long as the winning side understands that winning does not mean they can be unjust towards others who did not vote for them, and that the new president represents everyone, adopting the concerns of all, whether they supported him or not.

Western democracies have only reached this situation after a long road of practice, and through the political work of parties and established institutions, and a certain degree of awareness on the part of the voter and society. However, as they say: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, and if you do not take this first step, regardless of its difficulty, you will never go a thousand miles.

Perhaps the Arab republic that is most in need of learning a lesson from what happened in France on Sunday, and the speeches of Sarkozy and Hollande, is Egypt, which during the next few weeks will embark on its first experience of real multi-party elections, and indications are that they will be transparent compared to their predecessors, and no one knows in advance who the new president will be. This will be a difficult test, not in terms of who will win, but in terms of how the defeated team will act, and how they will deal with the winner. Will everyone unite around him to turn over a new page, or continue to remain divided and try to impose their ideas by force?