Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Have the revolutions failed the Islamists test? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When one says that he supports democracy, but rejects the results of free elections because he did not like the outcome, then this person does not want true democracy, but rather autocracy dressed up as democracy. In reality, we are still in the early stages of the path towards democracy, and the road ahead is long, and we must therefore be patient and persevere if the new [democratic] experience is to bear fruit, and if the Arab revolutions are to succeed in meeting the aspirations of the people with regards to freedom, justice, and the peaceful and democratic transition of power.

Everybody wants a form of democracy that suits themselves, and this represents the biggest challenge in the transitional phase and moving towards a stage where power is transferred via the ballot box. This is because people lived long decades under the education of an authoritarian regime which contained no room for freedom of expression and the right for the people to freely choose their leaders via the ballot box. This also resulted in a loss of confidence in the election process itself, as the only elections that took place were rife with fraud and vote rigging. Perhaps this is why the one year anniversary of the Arab revolutions ended in tears. Those who are sympathetic towards these revolutions believe that they have been hijacked from their original course, whilst revolutionary youth groups feel frustrated and believe that the Islamists have ridden the revolutionary wave and are now enjoying the fruits of their labour. On the other hand, some critics of the revolutions are using the results of the Egyptian and Tunisian elections as evidence of the revolution’s failure, saying this was not the course that the original revolutionaries wanted the revolution to tread. These revolutionary critics are claiming that regardless of what led to the elections taking place, whether this was revolution in the case of Egypt and Tunisia, or reform in the case of Morocco; this has only resulted in bringing Islamist parties to power.

Those who promote this argument are acting as if there is nothing good in the revolutions, and there is no use in reform, under the pretext that this only serves to bring Islamist parties to power; however this is the same logic that was used by the despotic regimes that until only very recently were still in power. Using this logic, we must ask: in this case, should the Yemenis have aborted their revolution because of the Al Qaeda bogeyman that is trying to gain a foothold in the country”? Should the Syrians stop their revolt for fear that change will lead to elections that will bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power?

Who said that the Arab revolutions expressed a particular ideology or [political] orientation, or that successful governance would see the defeat of the Islamists or the victory of the liberals? The revolutions took place to demand dignity, freedom, justice, democratic change, transparency, and an end to corruption and tyranny. This resulted in cohesion between different sections of [Arab] society; between Muslims and Copts; between the left-wing and the right-wing; between religious figures and the youth; between men and women; between those living in the city and those living in the country. It is therefore unjust to judge these revolutions as having failed simply because Islamist parties came to power via the ballot box; it would also be a grave mistake if these same Islamist parties believed that their electoral victory means that they will autocratically remain in power and that this is a mandate for them to monopolize rule and prevent others from challenging them.

Many people voted for the Islamist parties because the spirit of religion is dominant in our society, and this allowed these parties’ slogans to gain a sympathetic ear amongst the general public. In addition to this, the former regimes previously focused on inciting fears of the Islamists in their media statements, which has resulted in these parties being viewed as amongst the greatest victims of these despotic regimes. This is a state of affairs that later served these same parties, allowing them to gain credibility and sympathy in the eyes of many of the electorate who wanted to express their protest of the past and an end to former practices [by voting for the Islamist parties]. In addition to this, the organization and discipline of such Islamist organizations helped them to quickly spread their message to the electorate, taking advantage of and expanding their previous presence in charitable organizations and humanitarian work across the country. At the same time, the majority of liberal parties in the past were confined to utilizing newspapers, coffee-house [talk], and partisan political operations. The liberal parties have no choice but to acknowledge their failure to market their message and political programs; they failed to keep pace with the Islamist parties in communicating with the public and expanding their base.

Some might say that the Islamist parties used their superior funds, as well as mosques, for political propaganda. This is true, but this does not excuse the fact that the liberal parties did not try to counteract this by working at the grass-roots level or by utilizing new media to reach the electorate. Perhaps they should have learnt and benefitted from the youth of the revolution who succeeded in utilizing the internet and new media to mobilize the street and inform the general public about specific issues that concern them and touch upon their aspirations.

The Islamists succeeded, thanks to their cunning and organization, in reaping the greatest rewards from the revolutions, but at the same time they are now facing a difficult test, namely they will inherit an extremely difficult political and economic state of affairs, and face a public whose ceiling of demands has been raised by the revolution and who are expecting quick changes and achievements that will directly reflect on their daily lives. Perhaps this is the reason why the Islamist parties – again utilizing their political cunning – chose to engage with the other political forces and foster responsibility sharing in coalition governments.

There are undeniable fears regarding the Islamist parties and the extent of their commitment to democracy and the peaceful transfer of power via the ballot box. There is a commonly held belief that these parties are not democratic, and there are dozens of statements issued by members of these parties that fuel fears in this regard. Whilst the Sudanese experience [1989 military coup] also raises real fears regarding the possibility of these parties betraying democracy. Therefore, the changes that have emerged following the Arab Spring also represent a test to the Islamist parties and their commitment to democracy. If they pass this test this will undoubtedly foster trust that will perhaps allow them to win a landslide election, in the same manner as the Turkish Justice and Development Party. The Justice and Development Party confirmed its ability to coexist with democracy and even achieved an economic boom that granted it high levels of popularity [in Turkey].

The revolutions brought about change, and if we are choosing democracy, then it is the ballot box that will decide the parties or figures that will rule. In any case, the mandate of rule is temporary and only lasts until the next elections. By this standard, the revolution succeeded and achieved the conditions for transition to free and fair elections; the Islamists parties are now facing the test, and it is up to them to prove their commitment to democracy and the peaceful transition of power. It is in the interest of all parties for the democratic experience to succeed and for there to be an end to the cycle of [political] exclusion, violence, and autocratic rule, for the sake of national stability and in order to build a better future for the generation that launched these revolutions.