Arab Reform Bulletin
On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the issuance of the Arab Reform Bulletin – a monthly online journal issued by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Arabic and English covering political and economic change in the Arab world – bulletin editor Michele Dunne and head of Development Partners Center Dr. Mustafa Kamel el-Sayed made a workshop in Cairo last Saturday and Sunday about the conditions and challenges of reform.
The workshop discussed obstacles of reform in the Arab world, including the ruling regimes” influence over political life, citizens” refrainment from political action and absence of the social dimension of economic reforms and their ramifications represented in growing popular tensions and protests.
However, the main issue was related to the weakness of the Arab opposition movements and their ineffectiveness.
The Arab opposition movements wanted to employ popular participation to bring about real reform to re-distribute power between the elite and the citizens, but they failed due to the influence of the elite and their security institutions.
They wanted to make constitutional amendments to strengthen the competences of the legislative authorities in the face of governments.
They also tried to modernize effective tools of control to make a balance between authorities, but they also failed due to the power of the executive agencies.
Some of those opposition movements tried to end the conflict with the elite and establish flexible alliances with other opposition movements, turning a blind eye to ideological differences with the Islamists and the seculars. When they failed, some of them became prisoners of dogma.
The Arab opposition movements are in bad need of drafting new statements justifying their adherence to political participation. They should also try to convince the people that they are an irreplaceable strategic choice.
The workshop discussions highlighted two justifications: the first concentrates on the minimum benefits represented in employing participation and its mechanism, especially with regard to parliamentary action to undermine the ruling elite suppression and preserve the cohesion of opposition movements.
The second justification is related to what could be described as the maxim motives, as opposition movements try to appear as political participants under any conditions.
They always seek – in spite of the successive setbacks – to push the wheal of peaceful change and gradual reform. Therefore, they cast doubt on the authenticity of the ruling elite, criticizing them as irresponsible trends threatening societal peace.
The opposition movements also face the challenge of searching for a practical balance between the requirements of participation and the necessities of ideological commitment. The Arab policy, with its restricted pluralities and influence of the ruling elite, necessitates that opposition movements adopt middle-of-the-road stances towards society”s main issues.
Oppositions arrange their ideologies and political visions. At the same time they are really afraid of losing their distinguished discourses and programs compared to the ruling elite that adopt the slogan of reform.
They also have concerns over the phenomenon of citizens” refrainment from public action and concentration on issues of the religious references of the Islamists, civil freedoms of the liberals and economic and social rights of the leftists, even if this ran counter to the priority of agreement with the elite.
Indeed, the Arab opposition movements from Morocco to Bahrain are in deep waters. They have almost no chances to practice real pressure on the elite to bring about political and economic reform.