Since the beginning of this year, tangible changes have occurred either directly with the overthrow of the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, or indirectly as was the case in Morocco and Jordan, where anger was absorbed through some reforms. However, the causes of this were neither new nor accidental. Discontent with Arab regimes has always been present and widespread within liberal and Islamic circles, albeit for different and divergent reasons.
The purpose of this article is to argue that the "Arab Spring" - which I prefer to refer to as the "Arab Spirit" - is not an attempt by the Arab masses to introduce democracy as it is traditionally understood - despite the genuine need for democracy by some of them - but rather an attempt to get rid of regimes that are considered to be corrupt, authoritarian, undemocratic and, to most, secular, and rightly so. The lack of vision as to the price that people have to pay to be governed by democratic principles and the unwillingness by some to pay such a price will cast doubts on the success of these revolutions to end corruption and authoritarianism and achieve good governance.
What Has Happened?
Why did this happen, and why did it succeed at this point in time? The development in the telecommunications revolution was instrumental in bringing about new sources of information other than the traditional and government-authorized sources. In the past several years, the Arab masses were exposed to a mushrooming network of satellite stations that entered every house and influenced all generations and ages. These satellite channels were used extensively for the propagation of information that was fundamentally conservative in nature and religiously inclined. The same trend was observed in the social media. Arab youth have found a bonanza of information that had a significant influence on their attitudes toward politics and social issues. Again, the majority of Internet sites and blogs were fundamentally religious and antagonistic to liberal values, which were perceived as decadent and not suitable to this part of the world. The Western political discourse, especially during the Bush administration, further strengthened this view as it widened the dissatisfaction of the Arab masses with policies toward Israel and its narrow views toward Islam and the "war on terror."
Reasons for Arab Discontent
When the Arab youth took to the streets, most accounts said that the movement was initially started by urban, educated and middle class youth who were later joined by others from all sectors of society.
These youth were demanding democratic governance. They were calling for an end to monopolizing power, better accountability and transparency, and an end to hereditary rule. No one can deny that the demands of the Arab youth are just and that the behavior of the Arab regimes was domineering and despotic. At the same time, current changes that characterize the world with respect to reform, good governance, the information revolution and other changes proved to be conducive to political and socioeconomic reforms, including the enforcement of various regimes and restrictions following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
While it is true that some reforms had taken place in the Arab World1, they were substantively cosmetic and superficial and did not address the authority of the Arab leaders. On the contrary, what became apparent was the consolidation of the powers of those presidents by laying the groundwork for their children to rule. This was clear in the cases of Egypt, Libya and Yemen and was already the case in Syria.
Not only that, the Arab regimes failed to recognize the changes that had occurred regionally and globally. The relative wealth of the Arab world, the calls for women's empowerment and the increased importance of information technology among the youth have also introduced new realities that required substantive intervention on the part of these regimes, which they also failed to address.
In response to the regimes' failure to respond to the changes in the Arab street in recent years, the Arab masses in general, and the youth in particular, peacefully demonstrated and were successful in bringing about change in most of the Arab countries, including the those that did not witness a regime change. The changes in the regimes have introduced new political realities. In Tunisia, successful post-revolution elections took place with the participation of parties and groups that were banned from participating in the political process during the regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Similarly, in Egypt, hundreds of parties have been permitted to participate. The new Arab spirit has had a major impact on other countries where revolutions occurred but without regime change, as in the case of Morocco. In Libya, Yemen and Syria, the situation is bleak and is difficult to predict as to how the process there will evolve in the future.
Other Reasons for Discontent in the Arab Street
While most accounts point to the lack of democratic governance and the spread of corruption in Arab countries, few observers entertain the notion of ideological change as the impetus for political change. The demands of most of the Islamic parties in the countries where regime change has occurred seem to be more religiously motivated than politically or democratically inspired. As Amr Hamzawy pointed out before the United States House Committee on International Relations in April 2005:
Embracing the notion of democratic polity within nonviolent Islamist movements, however, does not mean that they are giving up their religious legacy and becoming wholeheartedly the new liberals of Egypt. Rather, they will always sustain their distinct religious identity as compared to other political forces by stressing, at least rhetorically, a traditional agenda built around moral calls to implement the Islamic Law and Islamize the public sphere and propagandistic pleas to liberate Palestine and the Muslim homelands from the "infidels.2
While the Arab liberals carry the slogans of freedom, good governance and an end to hereditary rule, most Islamic parties, probably to a lesser extent in Tunisia, carry slogans that call for an end to the increasing influence of Westernization in their societies. The emphasis is more on social change than on political liberalization and good governance. Rarely did the satellite stations that are mouthpieces for many of the Islamic groups denounce the authoritarian characteristics of the regimes. Instead, their messages are directed at how to practice religion, how to pray, the role of women in Islam, the satanic nature of Western democracies and so forth. The statements of the presidential candidate for the Salafis in Egypt, Hazem Abu Ismaiel3, regarding the hijab, alcohol and mixing of the sexes in the workplace cannot be ignored, given the fact that his group garnered almost 25% of the votes in the first elections. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood garnered another 40% of the vote makes such a position more realistic than merely rhetorical.
Post Revolution Changes and Prospects for a Turkish Model
Despite the changes that rocked the Arab world, the situation remains as unstable as ever. The ideological diversity of opponents of the Arab regimes is significant, and an ideological compromise is highly unlikely. The recent victories of Islamic parties and movements in the elections in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco generated debates about the future of democratic governance in these countries. In an attempt to calm the fears of secularists, liberals and the minorities, Islamic leaders are pointing to the Turkish model as a model that could be adopted and which guarantees many of the freedoms and rights that liberals and minorities are afraid to lose.
Continuous reference to the Turkish model by the Islamic movements is merely an attempt to calm the secularists. While the Turkish model remains essentially secularist, the rhetoric of the Islamic parties, especially in Egypt and Libya, is far from carrying a secularist tone; nor is it conciliatory in nature. Although Rached Gannouchi in Tunisia is somewhat more tolerant toward secularists' participation in his government, all indicators show that this is not likely to be the case in Egypt or in Libya.
In Turkey, the situation is politically and economically more liberal, and the democratic culture there is more established than in Arab countries. Turkey has experienced democratic rule for quite some time, and the laws in Turkey have developed through a process of checks and balances and with a strong role for the military and a constitutional court that has kept all branches of government in check and prevented the slide toward authoritarian rule. Moreover, the military over the years have been instrumental in strengthening the position of the liberal and secular forces to a level that is unparalleled in any country in the Arab world. To say that the Turkish model will be emulated in Egypt is a simplification of the facts and undermines the steps that Turkey has undergone to reach the stage where it is now. Not only that, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself called on Egypt to adopt a secular system of government, it was criticized by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.4
Also important to note is that Turkey, despite the nature of the Erdogan government, is a country governed by a secular constitution and is closely linked in its policies to NATO, thus putting it much closer to the Western world than to Egypt and Libya.
Like Turkey, Tunisia has a strong liberal tradition and the secularist forces have a significant influence. Although Gannouchi was the victor in the recent elections, the outcome of the elections necessitated that he ally himself with the other parties that are mainly liberal and secularist. Without those parties, Gannouchi will be unable to govern, given his small majority in parliament. The situation in Egypt is different. All indications are that the majority of the next Egyptian parliament will be composed of the Islamist parties (Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis). Those parties have gained a majority using many means that are inherently undemocratic. The constant messages that they sent to the poor illiterate Egyptians about not voting for Coptic candidates on the ground that this is non-Islamic is but one example.
Are Arabs Ready for Democracy and Democratic Rule?
The demise of the current Arab regimes is becoming more and more plausible and the winds of change are vibrant and are shaking all political institutions in the Arab world. The question is: Where are we heading? Do these changes respond to the initial demands initiated by the young urban elite? I am hesitant to believe that the revolutions that are taking place have a common agenda. Certainly, the demands of the young revolutionaries in Tahrir Square and in other Arab capitals are multiple yet ideologically diverse. Some demand secular political systems while others call for the establishment of states on the basis of Islamic Shari'a. Moreover, some groups believe that it is their right to have their demands met because they believe that they are the majority while others believe that they have their rights on the basis of their humanity.
Of course, these issues are also discussed in all societies even in the most democratic ones. The question that is raised by many is whether there will be tolerance among the general masses to accept the viewpoints of the other. Most accounts show that there are missing elements that are required for democratic culture to succeed. There are basic tenets required for the success of any democratic system. These tenets include, inter alia, the rule of the majority and the rights of the minorities, a well-established judicial process, peaceful change of power, fair and regular elections, sovereignty and, most importantly, the main tenet that all people are equal before the law.
To what extent will those issues be respected and adhered to? To have high expectations is not realistic. Nonetheless, there are signs that show that most of the initial expectations of the Arab masses do not go along with the concept of good governance and a democratic system of government.
Maintaining the democratic process in Egypt and Tunisia is confronted with numerous challenges, most important of which is the strengthening of a democratic culture where free elections have taken place. However, enhancing the values of democracy is first and foremost the responsibility of the elected representatives who will become the representatives of all the people and not only their constituents.
All indicators signal the success of the religious groups in most of the countries where regime change has taken place. The Muslim Brotherhood is destined to take over control of parliaments. Controlling the parliaments will most likely introduce serious confrontations with respect to the constitutions and the implementation of Islamic laws. Even in Egypt, the likelihood of a confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis (al-Nour Party) over religious interpretations is high.
The confrontation over implementation of laws that are religiously based will introduce new realities on more than one level. On the one hand, the secularists will oppose enforcement of the hijab, the segregation between the sexes and so forth. On the other hand, it is not known how the Islamists will deal with economic issues such as unemployment. It is not certain whether the Islamic parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Annahada or the Justice and Equality parties in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, have any real agendas or strategies to deal with economic and political issues. Hinting at the Turkish experience while at the same time rejecting secularism is not reflective of the Turkish situation. As stated earlier, the Turkish model evolved from a democratically cultured society and institutions. Even in Tunisia, where a democratic culture is more established, relative to other Arab countries, reference to religion as the source of all legislation marginalizes the role of parliament and restricts its maneuverability.
The experience of religiously controlled government bodies has been ineffective in dealing with development issues. The examples of Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Hamas government in Gaza testify to this. How can it be possible to deal with poverty without addressing overpopulation, women and minority rights without addressing civil rights, tourism and banking without addressing the impact on growth of the economy? As the leading Palestinian intellectual Rashid Khalidi said in an interview with Haaretz, "It's perfectly fine to come in with a slogan that 'Islam is the solution,' but try to solve a housing crisis, or infrastructure, or unemployment, with 'Islam is the solution.'"5
While there are queries concerning motives of the religious right and their capabilities to tackle social, political, and economic issues, it is important that these forces be given the opportunity to play their role in the political process. Participation in the political game needs to be governed by strict rules and procedures. The drafting of a constitution on democratic principles with the involvement of all societal forces is the first step toward ensuring that if these elected forces failed in their role as legislators and executors, then others will be allowed or permitted to have another chance through elections.
The other step will be the establishment of a constitutional guardian that is immune from political or religious manipulation and governed solely by democratic and constitutional principles. The Turkish model has indeed such a guarantee.
Maintaining the government only on the basis of majority rule will undermine the efforts for national reconciliation, political development, human rights and peaceful coexistence. Currently, the lack of genuinely pluralistic and ideologically diverse political institutions in the Arab World sheds a light on the success of the democratic potential of the respective political institutions. As Hamzawy discussed:
Yet, the path to Arab democracy continues to be problematic. A close look at the contemporary regional political scene reveals that the predominantly missing element - when compared with more successful experiences of political transformation elsewhere (e.g., Eastern Europe and South America) - is the emergence of democratic opposition movements with broad constituencies that can contest authoritarian power and force concessions. International efforts to promote democracy in societies where the tradeoffs of undemocratic governance continue to be bearable for the ruling elites do not suffice to make political reforms plausible or viable.
1 Amr Hamzawy, "Challenges and Prospects of Political Liberalization in Egypt," http:// carnegieendowment.org/2005/04/21/challenges-and-prospects-of-political-liberalization-inegypt/ 57b, (2005).
2 Hamzawy, Amr. "Redefining Boundaries: Political Liberalization in the Arab World" House Committee on International Relations Hearing, April 21, 2005
5 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/leading-palestinian-intellectual-we-already-havea- one-state-solution-1.399629, 6 December 2011.