The ascendance of Islamist parties to power following the Arab uprisings might not be to the satisfaction of some, but there is no doubt that it has become a reality. The question is, are they managing the economies they inherited? And to what extent are they likely to adjust and steer their countries towards a better and more robust economy and an effective and democratic political system.
Following up on discussions held in the previous sessions, on the Causes of the Arab Uprisings and the Rationale for the Rise of Islamist Parties to Power & Comparative Economic Performance in Islamist-Governed Countries, the third and last plenary session was dedicated to discussing the possible scenarios that may result from the Islamist party rule.
The session explored the different paths Islamist parties are likely to follow, as well as the challenges and opportunities they are facing and their ability and willingness to achieve a balance between then neo-liberal economic programs they appear to support and the need for a social justice and income distribution that would respond to the peoples’ demands and expectations following the uprisings. The transition Islamist political parties are experiencing from opposition to ruling power was also discussed at during the session.
While some argue that Islamist parties have already missed the chance they were offered, others believe it is too early to judge their economic, political and social performance. Mohammed Al-Sabah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, argues that “The party is not over. We are witnessing an Arab World in the process of change”.
When assessing the current situation, two aspects appear to typify current Islamist party rule: the political system not having responded to social expectations; and the polarization characterizing the society and which seems to be accentuated with the political Islam in power. According to Nathan J. Brown of George Washington University, there is no doubt about the general disappointment within the region. The question remains whether Islamist parties will have the ability and willingness to correct the above.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s point of view regarding the rule of political Islam was expressed during the session by Hussein El Kazzaz, from the Office of the Egyptian President who insisted on the Islamist view being as representing a paradigm of fairness of opportunities. According to El-Kazzaz, the major challenge Muslim Brotherhood face is whether it can internalize the values of the Egyptian revolution. He also highlighted the challenge the Muslim Brotherhood faces nowadays in Egypt when changing its historical opposition mindset to a new ruling one. Kazzaz presented a generally conciliatory approach which set off some members of the audience, criticizing the general scope of his speech and asking for more specificity about the Islamist party’s plans in terms of introducing democratic reforms and establishing social justice in Egypt.
In line with Mohammed Al-Sabah, Marwan Muasher; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also argues that the region is witnessing a historical process of change that cannot be judged a mere two years into the process. “It is going to take long time until some countries make it, others will struggle and others will fail as well” he stated.
Another key point that emerged from the session is the need for secularists and Islamists to consolidate their efforts towards democratic, economic and social reforms. “This should not be a battle between secular elements and Islamic elements. If it is seen as a battle then it becomes a battle for domination when whoever wins becomes the new autocrat of the Arab world,” noted Muasher.