In his most recent book ‘Political Reconciliation in Morocco,’ the prominent Moroccan intellectual Said Bin Said Al Alawi presented a profound analysis of a major dilemma in Arab politics. The dilemma is closely related to the retreat of the wide popular base from political concerns. This phenomenon is manifested in several indications such as low voter turnout in most Arab countries, the low level of participation in public politics and the diminishing role of political parties and organizations.
The writer introduced a two-pillar explanation for this phenomenon: the emergence of the predominance of the free market value system and the downfall of the socialist camp on one hand, and the growing influence of political Islamist movements in the Arab world on the other. In addition, Al Alawi added several factors related to the particular Moroccan condition. He focused on the role of university education and elaborated in detail, analyzing the historical factors that have affected Moroccan political culture. Furthermore, there was an in depth discussion on the present challenges, the most prominent of which is ‘religious terrorism’ which transformed into a factual danger since the Casablanca terrorist attacks in May 2003.
The phenomenon of withdrawal from political life to which Al Alawi referred has raised many concerns lately with developments in Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, and Algeria where participation in the general elections has been at its lowest. It is true that the phenomenon has become global; however, its causes in the Western context are different.
In the West, the withdrawal from politics and especially electoral politics is understood in light of a dual cleavage: that which separates the political realm from the social on one hand and between the local national circle and the integrative international and regional circles on the other hand.
The first kind explains the end of the division of labor system brought about by the industrial revolution and the class system, which is centered on capitalist modes of production and reflected ideologically in the conflict between the liberal right and the revolutionary left in European societies. The second industrial revolution, which was based on non-physical labor, has radically altered the former capitalist socioeconomic-ideological structure and consequently changed the rules of political practice. At present, this political practice could not be based on the former social class model, which offered the logic of political practice in the past.
The second form is more related to the complex relationship between national sovereignty where political legitimacy is bounded, and the space of functional integrative global blocs, which present a new concept of global sovereignty that some have entitled common sovereignty (which is a new concept that is still under theoretical examination). Clearly, the withdrawal of the Arab public from political and electoral activities is related mainly to two interrelated factors: the weakness of the institutional structure of political activities and the weakness of the political body itself.
The first factor is related to the nature and bureaucratic composition of the state, because it is unable to accompany group belonging and to embody the symbolism of a common national linkage. Thus, the concepts of hegemony and oppression are the ruling notions concerning political authority. This explains the transformation of political competition to a conflict of power as it is seen as the only bridge towards material and symbolical benefits.
The second factor is tied to the nature of the existing political partisan formations, which in most cases do not adequately represent real social or ideological societal powers. The political parties also lost their mobilization powers, which the parties enjoyed under colonialism. Moreover, the parties also lost the vitality of factional and tribal parties that were once strong in the Arab world.
The ruling political parties may be an exception. However, the strong analysis reveals that they only derive their power from their position at the top of the regime. Usually, when the regime falls, they also fall as witnessed in Sudan, Egypt, Iraq and Mauritania.
These two factors together cause another separation between the superficial features of political participation, which has become restricted to a narrow circle, and the actual political practices that try to follow distorted ways to deceive the restraints of exclusion and repression. The most prominent example of these distorted ways is the course of civil society in the Arab world, which often competes politically with the fragile political parties. The effectiveness of these civil society organizations has moved to the top on the list of priorities in terms of relations between Arab states, the international institutions and the international superpowers.
There is also the religious realm amongst these paths, which became vital in tricking the restricted political realm. The matter here is not restricted to traditional religious parties that seek political roles but is rather related to a wide circle that has many cultural and media dimensions. It is for this reason that Gilles Keppel, the French specialist of Islamic movements, in his last book wrote that religious political parties reflect a dual stand of secularism: on one hand they intellectually challenge and reject secularism, but on the other hand they practically accept it when they transform religion into a ground for political calculations and temporal conflict.