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The Normalization of Arab Opposition - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Finally, an unprecedented law in the Arab world has been issued in Mauritania. The new law defines and regulates the status and role of the opposition leader and grants him protocol and special financial privileges. The new law also obliges the President of the Republic to consult with the leader of the opposition regarding major national issues. This tradition establishes a good practice that was unfamiliar to Mauritania and the other Arab countries, where the status of the political opposition usually fell in between prison and exile.

I remember that during a visit to a European country, I met an Arab political figure that occupied various senior positions in the country before he was exiled. He told me, “After leaving the prestigious posts that I held, I sought to play the role of a moderate opponent who settles for quiet advice and polite criticism. However, I realized that the rulers in our countries only understand the language of glorification.”

Such a dilemma had reached its peak in some countries where almost the entire political class was exiled or imprisoned. Few other countries were able to preserve a limited consensual and non-institutional framework to embrace opposition.

Tribal mentality and traditional values of magnanimity often allows the containment of political tension in some places as in the Gulf countries where the climate of economic prosperity helps to control social stability. Yet institutional structures in Arab countries usually appear unable to absorb and embrace the pluralism and diversity of politics.

Reasons behind this status can be summarized in three key points:

Firstly: The prevailing and generalized perception of power in the Arab political field is reflected in two prominent elements which are the unilateral circle of decision-making and the similarity between the ruler and the concept of the state being the common collective bond.

From the first element we can negate the principle of independence and differentiation between the three constitutional authorities upon which the structure of the state is established. Also, the second element results in disguising the necessary separation between the right of opposing governing regimes and the requirements of loyalty to the country and the duty to abide by the parameters of citizenship.

Secondly: The fragility and restriction of the existing structures of political organizations and their inability to express the protesting demands of key political players for two multiplying reasons, namely the disturbances and siege of governing regimes and the unfruitfulness of mobilization and practical strategies of political organizations.

The clear result of this phenomenon is the focus of this protest in non-political fields so that the realms of religion or civil action (civil society) become the most effective framework for tackling ambiguous political conflicts which may surpass the restraints of control and take the form of devastating terrorism or secret and illegal organizations.

Thirdly: The inability of organized elections to solve the dilemma of government legitimacy when they are afflicted by rigging so that it transforms into a political stalemate owing to these imbalances. This in turn leads to endorsing estrangement between an opposition that rejects the legitimacy of the regime and an authority that used “legitimate” channels to exclude outlawed parties. With the exception of the last elections in Mauritania, no Arab opposition has ever recognized the results of elections related to the hierarchy of authority.

Indeed, the experience of independent commissions supervising the elections which was adopted by Mauritania after it proved efficient in African countries provides a temporary solution that is necessary to resolve the legitimacy of elections and ensure its transparency and integrity. Thereby, this leads to the normalization of the political situation and securing the required consensus upon the results of the contest.

Also, successful experiences of democratic transition in the world clearly prove that the benefits of democratic transition require a pattern of establishing a deal between governing systems and opposition groups so as to shift the successful and peaceful transition from the state of unilateralism to the state of pluralism.

An experience that was named consensual succession in Morocco had proved the success of this behavior which saved the country from the lengthy phase of tension that followed the collapse of an era of coalition between the throne and some components of the national movement in the early 1960s. Rather, we can say that during these inflammatory decades, Moroccan opposition had shown a unique ability to manage political conflict within the available legitimate channels. Thus the realism and flexibility of Moroccan Leftist leader Abd al Rahim Bouabid had achieved what the wistful revolutionary approach of [Mehdi] Ben Barka had failed to achieve.

The experiences of depending upon foreign powers had failed to create the desired transformation and in some cases, it led to undermining the regimes as in the case of Iraq where opposition supported by foreign countries was unable to provide a stable and viable alternative. The outcome is that the Arab political field is in need to escape the model of generalized clashes against rulers to a contractual model of representation so that the ruler does not become an absolute god and so that opposition does not symbolize the rebellious pirate that is imprisoned and exiled.