The Future of the “Arab Spring”: Between Islamist and Secular forces

Marwan Muasher (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

Marwan Muasher (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

“This is not an Arab spring, in my view, nor is it an Arab inferno. It is a process of change that was bound to happen, but one has to be realistic about its chances.”

These are the words of Marwan Muasher, currently VP for studies at Carnegie Endowment, summing up his views of the emerging events in the Arab world and whether they can lead to any lasting outcomes. His speech was part of the third plenary session of the Economic Research Forum (ERF)’s 19th annual conference, providing an outlook for possible scenarios that could result from the rise of Islamist parties to power.

The Battle between Islamist Forces & Secular Elements

Following the overthrow of autocratic regimes, the uprisings started shaping up into a battle between political segments -namely Islamic forces and secular elements- that have surfaced after years of being kept under the lid. However this battle disregards the very essence of the revolutions, which originally set off as battles for pluralism; to consolidate democracy and solidify everybody’s right to be included.

One promising outcome of the revolutions, however, is that the people now have developed the savvy to question, criticize and claim power. Bringing down regimes that have been around for decades in a mere two-week time is an unmistakable threat to the “Holiness” of the rising political forces, especially the religious ones such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The problem with these political forces, Muasher explains, is that their ideologies and slogans have never been put to the test during the previous regimes. Now that they’re in the spot light, promises of reform and slogans like “Islam Is the Solution” must be translated into detailed programs of action in order to gain credibility.

The Economy: Beyond “Bread before Freedom”

Muasher argues that the old regimes’ economic reform programs weren’t wrong, but were incomplete. The problem with the “Bread before Freedom” argument is that it makes way for corruption; they weren’t supported with a proper political system, represented in a strong parliament that works in parallel with the government to address problems and abuses when they arise.

The reason behind the rise and electoral success of Islamic parties can’t really be attributed to their agendas and promises that were never actually put to the test, as much as for their being the only organized element, under the previous regime, among others who weren’t allowed to be organized. Now other political forces are organizing and are becoming neck and neck with Islamists, such as the case in Tunisia between El-Sibsi’s Nidaa Tounes opposition party and Ennahda Islamist Movement, and this is where promises are challenged.

In Muasher’s view, the economy is a major determinant of reform, especially in countries that have undergone transition, and the people are the ones who reward or punish governments, based on their performance through their votes. He predicts that the Islamists’ mask will fall and they will prove to be not any better than autocratic regimes.

Is There A Future for 3rd Forces in the Arab World? Challenges & Opportunities

The way things are going, the crowds are beginning to thin away from Islamists whose performance is coming as a disappointment to many. The Arab world is now witnessing a bipolar monopoly; between political elites and governments without accountability and Islamist movements whose commitment to both politics and religion is highly doubtful. Nonetheless, secular parties aren’t likely to collect the votes that stray from Islamist despotism, for they are not yet as organized.

The public’s skepticism of 3rd forces’ intentions and capacity creates yet another challenge for their future in Arab politics; they are seen as groups that:

  • try to win elections to serve personal agendas rather than the greater good
  • do not have clear political programs
  • do not consolidate their forces or have financial & organizational capabilities

The People vs. Politics

The battles between political forces have undoubtedly created divides between the people themselves, who first started the transitional movements as a battle for pluralism. What’s worse is that most people now know what they’re against rather than what they’re for, which is yet again not only blurring our affiliations but also our identity as an Arab nation.

I strongly agree with Muasher that in order to avoid another autocracy, both Islamist and secular forces need to understand that the future lies in accepting each other rather than their denial of each other. They need to work together to translate the popular movement into an intellectual framework that once again stands for pluralism rather than against deposition.


One Response to The Future of the “Arab Spring”: Between Islamist and Secular forces

  1. Pingback: ARAB SPRING: AN ISLAMIC SPRING? | Welcome to

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