Future of Democracy in the Arab World

Over the past year, the world has witnessed significant political reform throughout the Arab world – for example, democratic elections in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and Egypt.  Analysts say that next month’s parliamentary elections in Egypt will be a key test of the nation’s commitment to democratic reform.

Amr Hamzawy previously taught at Cairo University and the Free University of Berlin

Amr Hamzawy, a noted Egyptian political scientist and currently senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said moderate Islamists are crucial to expanding democracy in the Arab world.  Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA New Now’s Press Conference USA, Mr. Hamzawy explained that it is misleading to see the Islamist spectrum as representing only militant groups operating to topple regimes in the region.  He noted the existence of broad political movements that reject violence and advocate gradual reform as well. 

President Mubarak won a fifth term but with less than one-quarter of voters turning out and opponents charging the results were rigged
In Egypt and other Arab countries such as Jordan and Morocco, Mr. Hamzawy said there are few policy differences between moderate Islamists and liberals.  However, the key difference between moderate Islamists and their militant counterparts is over the use of violence.

According to Amr Hamzawy, the moderate Islamists eschew violence and are committed to elections, the peaceful transfer of power, and human rights.  He noted that moderate Islamists often have broader public appeal than liberal opposition candidates and parties.  Mr. Hamzawy said the upcoming parliamentary elections in Egypt are likely to produce a better voter turnout than September’s presidential elections and there is even a possibility that opposition candidates will be able to double their representation in parliament, leading to greater pressure on the current regime. 

Hamas was formed in late 1987 as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank
Regarding the Palestinian elections, currently set for next January, Amr Hamzawy labeled Hamas, which plans to field candidates, an “ambivalent movement,” because it also has an armed wing that advocates violent resistance.  He places Hezbollah, an armed political moment based in Lebanon, in a similar category.  Given their popular appeal among Palestinians and Lebanese respectively, it is difficult to exclude them from the political process. However, until such movements renounce violence, Mr. Hamzawy said they could not be classified as moderate Islamists.

Amr Hamzawy said that the Bush administration’s policy of promoting democracy in the Arab world is just one among many factors that account for the current wave of change.  While he noted that U.S. policies have exerted significant pressure on autocratic rulers to accelerate the pace of political reform, other factors such as deep-seated dissatisfaction among Arab populations, the inability of leaders to meet basic economic and social needs, and the expansion of information technology have also played important roles in opening up the political process.