Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

From Democracy of Representation to Democracy of Protest | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I was recently told by a Moroccan professional politician that the political class in his country faces an unprecedented challenge in the parliamentary elections set for next year. At a time when it is hoped that these elections will be the most integrant and transparent in the contemporary history of Morocco owing to the legal and procedural guarantees that it provides, it is feared that it would lead to the collapse of major partisan formations that have preserved the balance of the Moroccan political field since the 1950s.

My colleague continued, saying, “These formations are divided into two major groups, one is the resistance parties which originate from the Major Independence Party and the most significant members of this group are the Socialist Union of Popular Forces and the Independence Party (which retained the original name). The other group includes parties which former opposition parties called administrative parties, whereas in fact they are “comprehensive” formations which combine strong civil, financial and administrative forces that are affiliated with direct loyalty to the palace.”

The successful experience of consensual alternation that Morocco has enjoyed since 1997 is ascribed to the fact that under monarchical auspices, the two blocs had reached a political settlement that would ensure them the management of the transitional track in the direction of true and pluralistic democracy that protects Morocco from intense shocks experienced in the past decades. However, and despite the fact that the experience was relatively successful according to my colleague, it led to the weakening of political parties which lost their brilliance, endured a collapse in tactical momentum and popular presence, whether related to parties of the national movement, the positions of which shifted from protest and rejection to collision with complex social files, or with comprehensive parties that no longer receive the support of the administration and the monarchy.

The next scene varies between two probabilities that might intertwine, which are: broad Islamic spreading or dominance of the independent representatives of the parliament and these are mostly from the civil front and the new non-partisan social strata. In all cases, the Moroccan political scene will face an unprecedented challenge that will be based upon a terrifying partisan collapse and the rise of new parties to the political arena that will change fixed balances. The Moroccan situation is not an exceptional one within the Arab arena, though distinguished with a set of specifics, perhaps the most prominent of which is the political openness that the Arab world has experienced during the last decade, given the experience of alteration that I had witnessed.

It is clear that the party formations in all Arab countries observe severe crises, except the ruling parties, which in its actual composition identifies with the executive bureaucratic structures of the state.

Such a situation can never be ascribed to an autocratic state or the isolation of the political system alone on the pretext that active partisanship which existed in the Arab arena had previously dealt with this situation, rather it should be regarded as an output of such a factor. It goes without saying that the major national parties, generated by the liberation and resistance movements, often collapsed (the clearest example is that of the Egyptian Wafd Party). Furthermore, the ideological formations that emerged in the era of the nationalist and leftist uprising retreated and so too did its momentum for mobilization.

If the Islamic trends seem to be the exception, the militant group in fact is the product of radical trends that deviate and are illegitimate and not traditional partisan Islamic organizations. If some approaches focused on the impact of the decline of the ideological factor upon the composition and functioning of political parties, it is but a single factor of the equation that goes beyond the narrow dimensions of the narrow regional framework.

Regardless of the specifics of the Arab political arena, the democratic practice (even in old democratic countries) witnesses a shifting crisis, the effects of which are clear in the setback and decline of political parties and the reluctance of people to participate in the elections and the unstable governments. French political scientist Pierre Rosenvallon expressed his opinion on this phenomenon in his recent book entitled ‘Democracy Past and Future’ with the precession of “challenge and confrontation” in the democratic process to that of “confidence” that is immediately and practically translated by the election process.

If the two mechanisms are fundamental to the practice of democracy, then what has happened is a retreat in the mechanism of representation that is legalized by elections in comparison to the growth of the accountability and confrontation mechanism emerging in street protests, angry opinion polls, as well resentful media and inflamed political trials.

Such a growing mechanism does not correspond with increasing partisan activity, as it focuses upon the activities of vigilance and protest rather than organization and ideological mobilization. Its goal is not representation, but in fact, it is about presenting problems, putting pressure on the authorities and influencing the government, not eliminating it.

With the collapse of this model which was crystallized by Rosenvallon in the Arab arena, one can say that the limited experiences of openness and pluralism had revealed the emergence of the same trend yet with disputed discrepancies. However, the problem that is presented here is the absence of community and political balances that protect the democratic system from the disorganized spectrum of protest where the tool of elections is transformed into upheaval on political life.