A final report : “What is the Future of the Movements for Democratic Change in the Arab World?”

In International Advocacy Program by

Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHR) convened a workshop titled “What is the Future of Movements for Democratic Change in the Arab World?” during the 19th-20th of May 2007. Sixty participants took part in the workshop, amongst whom were human rights activists, politicians, judges, academics, writers, intellectuals, journalists and bloggers from eight Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Iraq), as well as four European countries (France, Ukraine, Serbia and Slovakia). The participants presented, in a number of research papers and verbal interventions, the experience of movements for democratic change in the Arab world in comparison to movements for democratic change in Eastern Europe. The aim of the comparison was not to directly imitate, or literally adopt, others democratic practices. The aim was rather to answer a key question, namely, why did they succeeded and we fail? By answering this question, many factors are delineated, private characteristics emerge, and common denominators are revealed. Thereby, critical contemplation is motivated to find solutions for the Arab world’s dilemma of tyranny. This contemplation is launched by a deep-rooted analysis that leads to the unveiling of the factors of tyranny and lightening the way out of such a dilemma.

This report provides a synopsis of the two-day event, where papers were presented and discussions conducted to reflect supposedly diverging opinions. Yet one can feel the state of confusion, the strait of the moment, and intermingled feelings and ideas concerning a pivotal main issue, namely Democracy.

1. Preliminary Overview
The Arab region witnessed a number of movements for democratic change that came into existence during 2004 and 2005. It was the period where hopes concerning democratic breakthrough emerged with the existence of internal political movement and external changes, heading towards the democratization of Arab societies. Many political movements raising the slogan of political change have appeared, holding different declarations and strategies, in a confused political reality. However, they all participated in their longing for democracy and had common reasons for a relative rise. They shared reasons for slackening as well, in a period that started early 2006 up till this current moment. The short experience of the Arab movements for democratic change, including different forms of expression and political protests, needs analysis and profound reading in order to scrutinize the up-and-down state of these movements, and then to set forth suggestions to effectuate such form of political organization.
From the outset, the workshop approached the reality of Arab movements for democratic change with a view to explore their structural problems and discourse content, and criticizing their methods of organization and expression. The objective was not to reconsider standard dualities like the famous “is reform ushered from the inside or the outside?” and “Does the internal factor have the same leverage as the external in achieving democratic change?” Besides, the workshop was not intended to reproduce discourses satirizing Arab regimes which are still autocratic, isolated, totalitarian, and still unjustifiably look down upon the Arab citizens. The questions posed in the workshop were structure-oriented, reaching beyond the public discourses and rumors spread in the Arab sphere, to tackle issues more concentrated on the crisis of political structure, discourse and mobilization of the public. Among the questions are examples such as “what is the stance taken by movements for democratic change towards opposition parties, politicized Islam groups and human rights organizations?”, “Are these movements capable of “generating” young political elites to participate in public work and interact with the discourses for democratic change?” or “do they only “reproduce” the existing political elites in public life since years and maybe decades?!”, “Have these movements managed to eradicate the spreading chronic diseases of the Arab political organizations, or have they failed in doing so?” etc. The questions posed in this concern are numerous, and they could lead to answering the main -unspoken- question, i.e. can the movements of democratic change and the political parties in the current Arab status become an alternative for the ruling alliances in the Arab world, or do they carry within them the “failures” of Arab elites?
Such a vital question exists in the light of the experiences for democratic change practiced by Eastern European countries, which witnessed the birth of political movements that lead the change in Slovakia in 1998, Croatia in 2000, Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and finally, Ukraine in 2004 in what was known as the Orange Revolution. These democratic experiences come within the context of the so-called “fourth wave of democratic change in the world”. A number of important researchers in the field of political sciences have conducted studies of such experiences, and have come out with a democratic change model that could benefit other countries in the rest of the world. Some of the most important researchers are Larry Diamond, Professor of Political Sciences and Fellow of the Hoover Institute, Stanford University, Unites States of America, and Michael McFaul, Director of the Center for Democratic, Development and Rule of Law Studies (CDDRL) at the same University.

A group of Arab researchers consider that the conditions of many of the abovementioned countries on the eve of democratic change have similarities, in many aspects, to the conditions currently witnessed by the Arab world. Therefore, the importance of the comparative study appears and the question occupying the researcher in studying the various experiences emerges: why have these people succeeded while we have not? What are the factors that helped to achieve the democratic transition in these societies? What are the required means to develop the political, economic, social and cultural factors in a way that allows for the translation of the democratic longing that haunts vast sectors of Arab societies into tangible concrete experiences, which accumulate and grow according to the exerted effort in forming and developing them? Political experiences are of benefit but are not to be adopted literally. Societies vary in their political, economic and social development conditions, and it is difficult for them to import external political applications. Real and effective development is one that comes from within. Reviewing comparative experiences in the process of democratic change promotes setting the analytical frameworks, effectuating political structures, developing political movement, and building a more mature form of relationship between the State and society, between the citizen and the State, and between all the political and partisan powers forming the political fabric.

2. Democratic transition Model in Eastern Europe
The countries that were the offspring of the communist bulk in the 1980s and the 1990s vary amongst themselves; yet, they are characterized by a number of common features that could be borne in mind upon analyzing the reasons of the democratic breakthrough they witnessed, the impacts of which have extended to reach many areas in the world.

(2.1) A Democratic Infrastructure
The countries that witnessed democratic breakthrough at the end of the 1990s and early 2000 recognize what we can call “democracy infrastructure”, whether on the constitutional-legal structure, or regarding the political practice. These countries already had democratic constitutions, free elections, independent judicial authorities, and experience in peaceful protest work, in both demonstrations and strikes. Furthermore, the political elites strived for democracy owned some sort of political imagination, which enabled them to employ the faculties of the people, their cultural heritage and historical experience, to produce means of political expression against autocracy. This is the matter that highlights the efforts exerted to achieve the democratic breakthrough in these countries. In Serbia, before the democratic breakthrough that overthrew President Slobodan Milosevic in September 2000, there was a wide political grass-root movement that lasted for years and was capable, four years earlier in 1996, of forcing the Serbian tyrant to surrender to the local election results, in which the opposition won. In Ukraine, President Kotshama assumed office and ruled for two consecutive tenures according to a public delegation in free and fair elections based on the standards applicable in such kinds of societies.

(2.2) Politically Hybrid Regimes
Movements for democratic change have emerged in Eastern Europe under the umbrella of politically “hybrid” regimes, or so to speak, saliently characterized by the concomitance of dictatorship and democracy. They are regimes of democratic constitutions, partisan multiplicity, private media and independent judicial authority, while at the same time they have governmental media, violent security forces and political and economic alliances to extend the tyrannical ruling regimes. These regimes, despite being characterized by authoritarian security penetration, did not impede independent political proceedings tackling State autocracy and hegemony. Hence, a democratic margin existed for the movements for political change, through establishing alliances, mobilizing people, and benefiting from the existing rules of the game -at the top of which was the ability to hold free elections, to face the attempts of stealing electoral votes for the sake of extending tyrannical regimes and to block the gateway before the powers calling for democracy.

(2.3) Alliance for Democracy
Political and partisan elites in Eastern Europe lived decades of fragmentation, mutual discarding, and the absence of any possibility of common work for the sake of democracy. This state of political discord assisted the ruling authoritarian elites to extend their rule in these countries, play on the strings of discord, and court some powers on the account of others. It was not possible to achieve democratization without a strong coalition on the part of the opposition, through which they rally into consolidating alliances that deny the existing regimes any opportunity for manipulating their discord. In addition, opposition rallying capabilities provide the opportunity for peaceful democratic breakthrough. One of the catalysts leading to the achievement of such an alliance was creating a single charismatic leadership through which opposition can win before the existing regime, by resorting to the voting mechanism in free and fair elections. The main criterion for that leadership is political integrity, especially in a political environment where corruption wreaked havoc and turned from just a symptom into a disease afflicting the management of the whole political process. In Serbia, it was agreed to choose Vaclav Kostunica as the sole candidate of the Serbian opposition on the 24th of September 2000, despite the fact that he did not have exceptional characteristics in the political field. In Ukraine, Victor Yotshinko was the main opposition candidate in the second round of the presidential elections in 2004. The latter was a successful technocratic Prime Minister, and after being excluded by President Kotshama, he turned into a political leader. Being renowned for his honesty and integrity prompted many sectors of society to rally around him.

(2.4) A Democratic Youth Momentum
Striving for the achievement of democracy in Eastern European countries witnessed the emergence of youth movements that provided the democratization process with a momentum. Firstly, these movements manifested the feelings of the youth and expressed their vehement energy, longing for the achievement of democracy via means of peaceful strife. Secondly, these movements helped to mobilize opposition powers and instill uniting powers in their veins, after long years of stagnation caused by the suppressing authoritarian regimes practices. At the top of these movements comes OTPOR in Serbia, which means “Resistance”. This movement managed to mobilize forces and provide the youth rally needed for the peaceful strife. Following the footsteps of this movement, and benefiting from it, similar youth movements emerged in Georgia and the Ukraine.


(2.5) Fair Democratic Elections
Movements for democratic change appeared in Eastern Europe searching for “authority”. They were not established only to express democratic longing or a desire for change. Rather, they were keen to provide an “alternative” to the existing regimes in these societies. They had a salient objective, and their means to achieve such an objective was to depend on the procedure of elections, endeavor to guarantee their fairness and mobilize people first to participate, and second to impede any attempts for stealing their electoral votes. As a result of the ruling regimes insistence on the non-recognition of the results of the elections in Serbia and Georgia; or rigging elections in favor of their candidate, as was the case in Ukraine, people took to the streets as the only option available to combat the insistence on tyrannical practices. In addition, having an independent judicial authority that refused rigging the elections, as in the Ukrainian case, and an international situation that prevented approving rigged elections, assisted in achieving democratization.

(2.6) Promotion of Democracy
The experience of democratic change in Eastern European countries during the last few years, pinpointed the fact that the road to democracy did not come to an end when the opposition assumed the rule. Democracy itself is, rather, a continuous accumulative process that sometimes achieves progress, while relapsing other times. In all cases, the democratic situation in a society depends on the nature of the political movement, as well as on the debate between different political and partisan powers. Therefore, this leads us to believe that the process of democratization requires continuous “support” and “enhancement” in order not to decline or reproduce old political practices in new forms.

3. The Difference between Eastern European and Arab Experiences
Despite the similarities, the differences between the Eastern European experiences and the Arab ones call for the Scrutiny of major considerations before the direct transfer of the experience of movements for democratic change to the Arab sphere.

(3.1) Visibility of the Democratic Goal
Movements for democratic change in Eastern Europe had clear goals. They wanted to achieve democratic change to catch up with the democratic Western Europe. There was no enmity between Eastern Europe and democratic Western Europe, as the movements of change suffered no duality of feelings toward the West. This is unlike the Arab experience. The Arab region still looks upon the West with a love-hate perspective: loving its development and democracy, while hating the colonial tendencies latent in its political structure. Thus, the political movements calling for democracy in the Arab world still have many ambiguous queries concerning the Western other. They ask for its support, and at the same time tend to criticize it. This might be a direct result of the sweeping patriotic discourses of the ruling regimes and their writers, which aiming to deter any accusations made, tend mainly to smear opposing people for being agents for the West! In the mean time, the tyrannical regimes in the Arab derive their source of life from communicating with, and sometimes serving, the West.

(3.2) Concomitance of Democracy and Patriotism
Movements for democratic change in Eastern Europe did not have, on the eve of the democratic change, doubtful questions on the relationship between democracy and patriotism, as was the case in the Arab region. In Eastern European experience, the democratic transition formed an independent political program, but in the Arab countries it is very difficult for democracy to be turned into an independent political program, and besides, democracy and patriotism cannot be separated. Democracy cannot be achieved without patriotism, and at the same time patriotism cannot be accepted without democracy. Patriotic issues are centered at the heart of striving for democracy in the Arab region, for example in combating colonialism, reviving the national identity, and seeking the accomplishment of social justice.

(3.3) Sustained Civil Education
A civil education program, on the grass-root level, was present in the Eastern European experience. The movements of democratic change exerted great efforts on the grass-root level to disseminate civil democratic culture that exceeded the capital borders to reach the districts, addressing the interests of the ordinary citizen, and setting their main needs at the core of its democratic program. Such efforts took years and depended on numerous means and techniques that collaborated in raising the level of public debate in the society via dialogues and discussions, and creating methods of expression that match with the citizen needs and go in line with their cultural background. In relation to movements of change in the Arab region, as manifested in the experience of the last three years, they suffered from poor creativity and the lack of any ability to encourage the people, who are withdrawn from the political field, to have a voice and participate through a package of creative methods. These movements are not the only ones to blame, but it is necessary to take into consideration the challenges posed by reality, and the decades in which the Arab peoples had been living under the reign of tyrannical political elites. These elites have secluded them from the least forms of participation in public work. This caused these peoples a state of political inertia, and inflicted the whole political system with stagnation.

(3.4) Deciding on the Relationship between State and Religion
Movements for democratic change in Eastern Europe did not suffer from the problematic question concerning the essence of the relationship between religion and the State. The societies in which these kinds of movements emerged, had discarded that question as a result of the state of political, cultural and social development they witnessed before and during the emergence of the socialist regimes. On the contrary, the church played an important role, in the experience of such societies, in supporting the civil strife and the peaceful democratization, as in the case of Poland. It is a completely different case in the Arab situation, as the disagreement on the essence of the relationship between religion and the State forms a continuous problematic question, a source of political dispute and a point of polarization among different political powers. Moreover, lacking the decision on the relationship between religion and the State, led to extending tyrannical regimes. Tyrannical regimes in a number of Arab countries appeared disguised as the power that aims to maintain the interests of a wide range of people vis-à-vis Islamic currents, which is also the same image exported to the West. The experience of power groups desiring democratic change revealed that the religious institution plays a role in extending tyrannical limits via its alliance with the ruling regimes, permanently seeking a religious cover. They repel any criticism to its policies and, even worse, they mobilize people to participate in the “democratic make-believes” which these regimes resort to with the aim of showing their false democratic tendency. This all takes place in the name, and with the support, of religion.

Despite the differences between Eastern European and Arab world experiences, there are many lessons learned that should be highlighted:

1. The experience of democratic transition in Eastern Europe was capable of providing a model based on mobilizing a wide range of sectors from society, including them in the political process, and pushing them to participate in making the democratic change. This was done in the belief that the democratic project is related to the future tracks of these societies.
2. Youth are considered a major component in the democratization of Eastern Europe, particularly Serbia, Georgia and the Ukraine. Youth became a vital power for change, either through mobilization or communication through different means such as the internet, mobile phones etc.
3. Eastern Europe’s democratic transformation depended on creating new means of communication with the society, both with citizens mobilized by democratic movements, and with suppressors from the security and the army. Grass-root gatherings, the joyful and youthful spirit prevailing in protesting against tyranny and the desire for democracy, are all issues that had great impact on entrenching the idea and the challenge of democratic change in people’s minds.
4. Eastern European movements for democratic change manifested big alliances comprised of parties, youth movements, media institutions, bureaucratic factors, businessmen, civil society institutions etc. This led to the mobilization of powers of a wide range of society sectors in favor of democratic change, and reduced the maneuvering margin left for tyrannical regimes.

4. Characteristics of Movements for Democratic Change in the Arab Region
Assessment of movements for change in the Arab experience is not an easy task because of its short period of time, as well as its confused experience. Nevertheless, a number of general characteristics of this experience could be derived, in spite of their different forms in Egypt (Kefaya Movement), In Syria (Damascus Declaration) and in Tunisia (18th of October Movement). It should be taken into consideration that each of the former experiences is different from the other as a result of the different political development level in each Arab State, different margin of freedom available for the political opposition, the diversity of political structure experience and the relationships between the political and partisan powers.

(4.1) The Circumstantial Establishment of Movements for Change
The Arab movements calling for democratic change benefited from two conditions, the first of which is an exceptional international one in 2004 and 2005, namely the emergence of an international orientation that encourages democratization of the Arab region. Among the most important international parties supporting that orientation was the European Union and United States of America. The second condition is a local one that differs from one Arab State to another. In Egypt, the “Kefaya Movement” was established in 2004. It was established amidst a strong feeling between the political opposition powers that the democratic change issue had reached a deadlock in the absence of tangible steps toward real political reform, adding to the then approaching parliamentary elections and the presidential entitlement in 2005. In Syria, the “Damascus Declaration” came into existence on the 16th of October 2005, at a time when the so-called Damascus Spring evaporated. It was a short period of democracy in Syria at the beginning of President Bashar Al-Asad’s rule in 2000 and 2001. Syria, on the eve of issuing the Damascus Declaration, seemed to be in a state of political labor preceding the comprehensive change. The Syrian regime was under a stronger international siege, as a result of the issuing of Security Council resolution number 1559. Syria was further isolated by the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon, together with the repercussions of the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al Hariri, followed by other assassinations of Lebanese public and media figures opposing the Syrian presence in Lebanon. All the above made the Syrian regime live in a complex crisis worsened by the interview broadcast by Abdel-Halim Khaddam, the ex-Syrian Vice-President, in which he accused the Syrian regime of assassinating Al-Hariri. Among these pressures put on the Syrian regime, the Damascus Declaration emerged, calling for democratic change and peaceful political change. The conditions surrounding the establishment of the “18th of October Movement” in Tunisia were not different from the first exceptional international condition encouraging democracy in the Arab world, and the second exceptional local condition represented in organizing the second part of the World Summit on the Information Society during the period from 16th to 18th of November 2005. The Tunisian opposition was keen to benefit from the media momentum, and the political concern that would accompany the event, to attract attention to the issue of democratic change in Tunisia. In fact, the Tunisian opposition was similar to the Syrian in feeling that the short period of democracy, following the political change in Tunisia in 1987 with the rule of President Zein Al-Abedeen, has elapsed along with reaching a stalemate in the democratic change issue. The latter was expressed in the constitution amendment in 2002 that disappointed the political opposition and formed a momentum in the opposite direction, emphasizing the imbalances between authorities, and opening the presidency for unlimited ruling tenures. The presidential and legislative elections in 2004 were even worse, a fact that shows the extent to which the peaceful political change vistas are blocked in Tunisia.

(4.2) “Sudden” Political and Media Attention
The emergence of movements for democratic change in the Arab region, with its timing, led to a “sudden” attraction of society and media attention of different spaces and methods of expression that varied from one country to another, depending on the level of political openness in the society. In Egypt, the Egyptian Movement for Change “Kefaya” received great media attention and its symbols were capable of extensive examination of the political reality locally, regionally, and internationally. Some of the observers feel that the sudden intensified media momentum that surrounded the “Kefaya” movement at the beginning has harmed the movement more than benefiting it. In Tunisia, a number of political and human rights activists went on a hunger strike after issuing their statement in 18th of October 2005, aiming to attract attention, one month prior to the World Summit on the Information Society. During that period, “Kefaya” became stronger in Egypt and formed a “momentum” for the Tunisian opposition. The strike achieved its goal, in its relation with the World Summit, through attracting the means of information to the office of the lawyer Al-Aiashy Al-Hamamy where the strikers gathered -the fact that allowed them to express their demands. Many local and international human rights figures visited Al-Aiashy’s office to express their sympathy with the hunger strikers; most notable of them was the Iranian lawyer and “Noble” Prize winner Sherine Al-Abady, and the ex-chairman of the International Federation for Human Rights Sediki Kaba. After the strike fulfilled its goals, the strikers announced on the 18th of November in an enormous rally of media, that they are ending the strike. They also stressed the necessity of opening a national dialogue on the major issues aiming to crystallize an alternative democratic project that guarantees all Tunisians coexistence with one another, and the security of their rights and fundamental freedoms. A few days later, specifically on the 4th of December 2005, the “18th of October Movement” was established for rights and freedoms. In Syria, the “Damascus Declaration” attracted wide attention in political circles, despite restrictions imposed by the Syrian authorities on the margin allowed for the movement of political opposition to the extent that it cancelled the press conference in which the “Damascus Declaration” was to be announced on the 16th of October 2005.

It is generally noticed that part of the “sudden” media attention gathered by movements for democratic change in the Arab world is attributed to the establishment conditions, and indications of the name or the slogan used. The “Egyptian Movement for Change” was called “Kefaya”, indicating its rejection of Gamal Mubarak assuming office after his father (succession), and also its rejection of President Hosny Mubarak remaining in presidency (extension), to the extent that the original name of the movement vanished, and it was referred to locally, regionally and internationally as “Kefaya”. In Syria, the “Damascus Declaration” ascribed the declaration to the Syrian capital Damascus, expressing a symbolic aspect to dispossess the legitimacy of the ruling regime which had denied Damascus her political and intellectual vividness. In Tunisia, the date of the strike, 18th of October 2005, has become the name of a political movement called the “18th of October Movement”, thus, revealing a moment when the political opposition was capable of succeeding in a way that will be engraved in the memory of the democratic strife in Tunisia.

(4-3) Reliance on “Fragile” Political Coalitions:
Democratic change movements in the Arab region were markedly distinct for their inclination towards broad-based political coalitions involving political and partisan spectrums and searching for vast reform demands, regarding which all political powers were consensus-builders. This, in part, represented one of the elements of strength as embodied in the transcendence of political dissent. Meanwhile, it accounted for an element of weakness upon the outbreak of political and ideological differences, especially as such movements are normally founded on “fragile” alliances that avoid highlighting problematic inquiries, and which also contribute to their own disintegration in a subsequent stage, particularly in the wake of receding media clamor and growing low-level popular disinterest. In Egypt, the “Kefaya” Movement failed to keep safe its unified entity, or to stay in isolation from sharp divisions in its ranks. This is partly attributable to contentious “leadership” and the desire of some political factions to be exclusively in control of it. Controversy over the identity of the movement provoked a “civil-religious” rivalry, with the movement offering no visualization of the relationship between religion and the state, despite the urgency of the matter and its critical implications on determining the course of democratization in Egyptian society. In Tunisia, the 18 October Organization was formed to act as the junction of dialogue between Islamists and secularists on general objects, namely, sustainability of performing in the spirit of the 18 October movement, striking dialogue among different political and intellectual powers and civil authorities concerned with civil freedom-fighting, and the establishment of a democratic state and a strong and effective community. Despite generalization of purposes, normal doubts about relations between different political powers, especially secularists and Islamists, were raised. Hence, the movement’s first intellectual – style document, released on the occasion of World Women Day on 8 March 2007, came as an expression of deeply-rooted disagreements over an array of issues. This caused the document to look more like a political rather than an intellectual statement that was issued following in-depth dialogue between different political powers and parties. Divergence in viewpoints in the movement’s ranks was demonstrated in the inability to appoint a facilitator or a spokesman for the movement, not to mention reduced number of its members due to the withdrawal by some, or failure to attend its meetings and activities by others. In Syria, the Damascus Declaration expressed the magnitude of disagreement tearing apart the political powers issuing it. The Muslim Brotherhood Declaration on accession to the Damascus Coalition had raised controversy, with some of its phrases being understood as tendency to favor the Muslim powers, especially the Sunni, which was not to the entire satisfaction of some political players who believed this attitude brushed past a somewhat secular social base in the Syrian society.

Generally speaking, political and right-related demands that pioneered democratic change movement declarations in the three states had offered, in their entirety, nothing new. They only served as a replicate of opposition forces’ demands over years, if not decades. Therefore it can be safely admitted that reliance on generalized formulations in search of broader political and party accord, and proceeding from programmed visions of democratic transformation lacking in coherent ideological construction, had resulted in waning movements for democratic change in the Arab region. Here, we have to differentiate, in terms of the experience of building political and party alliances, between movements for democratic change in Eastern Europe and their equivalents in the Arab world. In modern democracies in Eastern Europe, politics-party alliance, as stated above, had been traced on the basis of a platform aimed at the induction of democratic change, whereas for the Arab experience, democracy in itself did not tune well as a platform, and there will always be the need for ideological construction that gives more ground on the view vis-à-vis dealing with different national issues.

(4-4) Absence of the Ability to Lobby Youth Support
Movements for democratic change in the Arab world in general, could not attract wide sectors of youth. The performance of all such movements was restricted to the reproduction of opposition political galaxies that were celebrities in the political arena for long years. The “Kefaya” movement had failed to attract vast sectors of youth, except for the few hundreds that took part in its demonstrations. Some interpret the birth of the “Youth for the Sake of Change” movement, from the womb of the “Kefaya” movement, as a protest by a group of youth against the movement’s management. Further, the ambiguity of the movement had given way to the appearance of the “Youth for the Sake of Change”, with “Kefaya” turning into an area that the youth employed to serve their built-in issues. It is difficult to say that youths’ detachment from the “Kefaya” movement is the symptom of the contitnuos stagnation in the political body of the Egyptian society. If a low rate of political participation in the Egyptian society is partially true, it can be said that this had not stopped the emergence of forms of serious youth participation as manifest in the internet bloggers’ expertise which managed to transmit to a broad sector of the public many of the fundamental issues in society. It also successfully ushered fresh spaces for political expression which was in the best stead to nurture youth to develop interest in public action. What applied to youth backing away from the “Kefaya” movement in Egypt was applicable to other movements for democratic change such as the “18 October Organization” in Tunisia, and the “Damascus Declaration Coalition” in Syria, as well. If such movements did not succeeded in attracting youth sectors to join their ranks and mobilize them to share their effectiveness, it can be noted that this is largely owed to political suppression exercised by Arab regimes for marathon decades, thus debilitating political spirits and disseminating the culture of fear at the level of the masses.

(4-5) Complexity of the Problematic of Politics and the Judiciary
In terms of the democratic change in Eastern Europe, independence of the Judiciary played a role in putting an end to the totalitarian regime. Concerning Arab society, the judicial institution, in general, had been living under tight government hegemony that scrapped its independence and discredited its ability to assume a role in support of democratization. The Egyptian experience knew the convergence of the “Kefaya” movement and other forces recommending democratic change on the one hand, and Egyptian judges represented in the Judges’ Club on the other. The convergence occurred upon the backdrop of the Judges’ Club demand to defend independence of judges and fairness of elections. “Kefaya” pinned hopes on judges as far as the democratic change drive was concerned, similar to US judges who triggered waves of progressive transformations in the 1960s. Egyptian courts had been, and still are, undertaking a crucial role in promoting human rights. Although the “judges” movement, if true to say, had raised the spirits of sectors of the society and upgraded the ceiling of democracy-supporting expectations, the end result was the recession of the judges’ drive and their failure to bring pressure to bear in favor of the adoption of the Judicial Authority Law to help ensure full independence of the judges, not to mention the efforts by a sector of judges to boost calls for boycotting election-monitoring. All this had prompted some judges, who were at the helm in defense of judges’ independence and election fairness, to retreat successively, and to reaffirm that the Judiciary is part of the State authorities and that it should be separated from any political claims, even if the latter were believed to be general democratic claims.

If this had been the case with the experience of Egyptian judges, it was the overstated superintendence of the executive authority in dealing with the judicial institution in Tunisia and Syria that warded off any role for the judges in bolstering democratic reform. It has become a necessity to look into reform of the judicial authority before thinking of assigning a role to judges in bringing about democratic change.

(4-6) Gradual Recession of Change Movements
The sixth milestone of movements for democratic change in the Arab world is featured in their recession, the inception of in-house differences, and the absence of capacity for substantial accomplishments on the ground being likely to exceed the momentum of media highlights in the first stage. Alongside their siege by political regimes, and failure to benefit from the rules of the political game, all this led to flaccidity and the phasing-out of these movements. The three movements of democratic change, subjects of this study, were not originated to avail of the political moment in invoking democratic change as in modern democracies in Eastern Europe. In Egypt, the “Kefaya” movement boycotted the constitutional amendment referendum in May 2005 and the presidential elections in September 2005 as well. It also failed to close opposition ranks in parliamentary elections in November 2005. Although the movement had evolved a synthesizing character in its building and composition, it failed in many cases to coordinate between opposition parties and the Muslim Brotherhood. This was how “Kefaya” fell short of taking advantage of political conditions in place and chose to be “an expression” rather than a “change” movement. Of course, “Kefaya’s” boycott of elections had been considerably justified. However, it is necessary to throw light on aspects of variance between it and the movements that substantiated democratic transformation according to the East European experience, given that they did benefit from the rules of the game, primarily by employing electoral occasion of achieving democratic change through an opposition coalition led by one representative candidate, while mobilizing the masses behind this candidate; securing the neutrality and fairness of the electoral process by virtue of concerted election monitoring and amassed public to go to the streets for peaceful demonstrations to fend off either manipulation of votes or insistence of oppressive regimes not to confess their defeat at the hands of the opposition.

The case was not as such with regard to movements for change in the Arab sphere. There was either election boycotting, as was the case in Egyptian and Syrian experiences, or keeping aloof of the electoral process, as in the Tunisian experience. This puts forward basic inquiries about the identity of these movements, about whether they are political movements intended for democratic change, or movements coming into being to spell out a general political passion for democracy and political freedom. Connotations relevant to these movements are indicated in their approach statements, in quotations exemplifying their identity and defining their self-entity. While “Kefaya” described itself as a “conscious movement”, the “18 October Organization” considered itself a “dialogue forum”.

Ruling regimes in the three countries besieged these movements through repeated means, by gearing up spectrums of political opposition against them, distorting their image before public opinion by way of pressing clientage and treason charges against them, and accusing them of alliance with Islamic movements, while using the security suppression machine on numerous occasions. These regimes were encouraged to do so in view of changed democracy-prospective international circumstances in the Arab world in 2006, as well as changed domestic political equations in some countries. Thus, these movements came under siege even more. In Egypt, parliamentary elections were followed by a state of political inertia, and the regime largely managed to raise fears against political ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood after their winning of around 20% of People’s Assembly seats (88) and the meager turnout of political opposition in terms of parliamentary seats due to severe internal divisions. In Syria, the landslide victory of President Ahmadi Negad in Iran resulted in direct support for the regime that also capitalized on the unprecedented degraded security situation in Iraq, and the perplexing means and ways of dealing with it on the part of US occupation forces. This, in addition to the acute discord in Lebanese society between supporters and opponents of the Syrian presence in the political equation, created a counter-reaction to the Damascus Declaration and dwarfed its implications. In Tunisia, the ruling regime, following the World Information Summit, re-held the reins through underpinning civil society and restoring the climate of polarizing talk between novel political regimes and Islamist-free civil society represented by authority, and “fundamentalist” and “terror-nurturing” political projects represented by Islamists and their allies.

In summary, political change movements in the Arab world have forged a new experience in this regard, and proved successful at times, but eventually faltered, evoking a feeling of frustration in Arab political milieus that advocate freedom and democracy. One of the main reasons for this frustration has been the overriding optimism conjured up in 2004 and 2005, mindful of the general feeling of imminent democratic reform in the Arab region. Events evidenced that this feeling was exaggerated and not built around a conscious reading of Arab political reality in its various dimensions, which, ultimately, produced unfavorable fits of depression and the belief that there is a long way to go as far as democracy was concerned.

Before moving on in respect to the Arab experience in movements for democratic change, a number of rudimentary points need be noted, especially in light of the above mentioned democratic transition experiences in Eastern Europe:

1- Democratic change movements in the Arab world have, more or less, failed to set up major alliances that would accomplish democratic transition. Adequate confidence-building among attuning political powers was not in place, adding to the absence of accord regarding thorny main problems that always, as part of the Arab experience, accounted for one of the factors of disunity and illegal banding among different political powers. These are problems such as the state-religion relationship, not to mention that these movements have failed to win over or attract young calibers, civil society institutions, elements of civil and security bureaucracy, or media agencies.

2- Democratic change movements in the Arab world were governed by the lack of desire to build a democratic base through superiority over other political and partisan powers, as well as high political ceiling logos as “Kefaya” had, but failing to translate them into actual constructive efforts on the ground, or an expression of balances of power. Furthermore, these movements displayed superiority over categories of political elites but had not preached serious discourse on citizenship and civilization in communities facing problems in management of religious or ethnic plurality. This meant that minorities in societies where these movements came into existence have become the chief support base of ruling regimes; the Copts in Egypt are an evident example.

3- The agenda of these movements did not include the idea of putting in place regional or international alliances for the sake of achieving democracy in the Arab world. These movements were exclusively bent on the respective country’s affair, without seeking to elaborate on regional discourses on route to democratic transformation. Based on the studied experiences of the three Arab movements Kefaya, 18 October Organization, and the Damascus Declaration Forum, it transpires that no intra-movement coordination is traceable except for the exportation of feelings of mutual sympathy. The movements under analysis had never regarded either the issue of oppression, nor, democratization as a regional concern.

4- Arab change movements could not attract vast sectors of youth, who had to recourse to other tools in expression of their issues and concerns.Such tools knew no banning, or pursuit, or low media ceilings; namely on-line codes, as is the case in the Egyptian experience, that quickly turned into spaces for meeting and acquaintance as well as exchange of viewpoints and outreach of issues and developments. This presented a model for youth protest in Egyptian society at the time when the “Kefaya movement” was short of absorbing all those youths to provide youth energy for democratic change.

5- Lessons Drawn: Statements of Democratic Transition in Arab Reality

Reviewing successful experiences of political change movements in bringing about democratic transformation in East European countries, and unraveling features of an abortive Arab experience conducted by political change movements in the Arab hemisphere, lessons can be learnt which in themselves act as an address underlying a long-term future action to sow the seeds of democracy in the Arab region.

(5-1) Getting Rid of the Rapid “Political Change” Illusion
The authoritative regime in the Arab world has been stripped of its legitimacy as viewed by several public opinion strata that dubbed it as absolutely corrupt, desperately powerless to accomplish or fulfill its promises, and suffering from a sharply fragmented structure, to the extent of losing confidence in it. This implied subjective circumstances that were pushing in the direction of democratic transformation, which needs kept-up cumulative action. The deficiency of the ruling regime must not deceive opposition forces to believing in the prospect of rapid democratic transition since the “weak” ruling regime is not a spontaneous area for democratic transformation to be achieved, especially in the presence of weak opposition. Therefore, opposition forces need to be on top of the list of advocates of democratization, must be trustworthy to broad sectors of the masses, and keep away from optimistic feelings of rapid political change. Democratic change is not an election ballot box, it is rather the building of individual awareness, striking the balance in different powers’ relationships, and developing a cultural edifice for democratic transformation. It is noticeable that at the time where the bases of movements recommending democratic change were diminished through a political sorting processes and contention over alliances, the ruling regimes managed to polarize technocrats extensively and to lavishly spend on them with an aim of garnering more and more support in their favor. Democratization requires a popular base that has faith in the significance of democracy, social forces that are capable of its protection, and a vertically broader alliance in society comprised of manifold categories in support of the democratic project. It is a time-consuming process and it is in need of “political modesty” on the part of political movements calling for democracy and freedom.

(5-2) Getting Rid of the Illusion that Change Inevitably Carries “Democracy” within
The fact that political change in the Arab region must lead to the realization of democracy, is never guaranteed. Iran’s experience in the 1970s is the best verifiable example, as opposition to the Shah’s regime brought to power an alternative political system contrary to democracy. For political change to yield a democratic alternative, the “public popular temperament” has to be markedly democratic, a matter often non-existent in the Arab street at present time. It seems that the masses still belong to the State as service providers, irrespective of how democratic they appear to be. There is fear of political change at various levels, such as in Egypt where a sector of Egyptians have their hopes pinned on power-bequeathal, or when Christians cast their votes in favor of President Mubarak out of fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.


(5-3) Getting Rid of the Illusion that “Authoritarianism” is Most Capable of Confronting the Enemy:
A degree of fear of democracy in the Arab street can be touched, partly due to the fact that democracy-supporting movements are apprehensive to raise complex issues such as the patriotism-authoritarianism relationship. Ordinary people do believe that democratic regimes are less capable of facing up to enemies. This mentality demands radical change. Correlation of democracy and patriotism should be differently displayed to the Arab citizen. Nevertheless, change movements were not adequately heedful of this, and still are profusely demonstrating their patriotism via conventional slogans to stave off accusations leveled at them by ruling regimes. This accordingly entails “veritable” disengagement between the two concepts; authoritarianism and patriotism, in the minds of Arab citizens who still believe that authoritarian power is better merited for facing the enemy. Historic evidence confirms that authoritarian governments were the best forfeiters of Arab lands. This can be clearly exemplified in popular national regimes from Cairo to Baghdad, and also Damascus. The Arab citizen needs to be persuaded of the fact that democracy is the essential requirement to revive patriotism and instill a new spirit versus interior political demise and foreign violation and seizure of Arab destinies.


6- Towards Strategic Approaches for Democratic Transition in the Arab World
In light of the above mentioned, a set of strategic approaches for dealing with the political authoritarianism crisis in the Arab world, and how difficult it is to subject it to political change, has been projected. In their entirety, they reflect the reading of democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, the experience of movements of democratic change in the Arab world, and a contemplative glance at the democratic transformation crisis in general within the Arab world.

The question now relates to the so-called “breaking of authoritative monopoly” in the Arab world, i.e. the monopolization of power and wealth together, rendering it inapplicable to bring about an actual democratic change. Three basic strategic preludes can be devised to ensure breaking this authoritative monopoly for the coming period.

(6-1) Intensive Political Outreach
One of the lessons drawn from the experience of democratic transitions in Eastern Europe is the ability to mobilize masses in support of democracy. Thus, popular indifference is said to be one of the reasons for the failure of change movements favoring democracy in the Arab world. In between these two experiences, lies the importance of political education in preparing vast sectors of society to partake in democratization efforts and to develop interest in the significance of democracy, not only by expanding the area of political participation, but also by upgrading the quality of life, economically, socially and culturally. This can be done, for example, thorough civil education programs, encouragement of large sectors of citizens to volunteer and engage in civil action, raising popular public awareness regarding democratic transition issues, and corruption-fighting through a package of diversified programs in rural and urban areas alike.

(6-2) Political Collective Action
The second lesson learnt from the East European experience of democratic transition, is the “ability to undertake collective political action”. lacking this ability accounts for the second reason behind the failure of democratic change movements in the Arab world, which failed to do so or relied on dummy formulas of political coalition involving sensations of suspicion, mutual antipathy and the desire to collect subjective gains. For collective political action to reap its fruit in respect to the Arab experience, it should be based on a chronologically extendable program to address fundamental complex issues, primarily the relationship between state and religion. It must also bear in mind that upsetting this relationship does not only prevent coordination and cooperation between different political powers, but also provides an additional justification to perpetuate Arab authoritarian regimes allegedly in the face of Islamists, and for the preservation of the minimum of the already-corroded civil character of the Arab state. The experience of movements for democratic change in the area of collective coordination directed at addressing complex issues is still “miserable”, haunted by the memory of failure and suspicion, rather than of success and mutual trust. Arab political movements need to rid themselves of the elitist approach, to give up arrogance in dealing with the masses and other political and right-based organizations, to keep aloof of unviable slogans, practically speaking, and to explore fresh innovative means for mobilization of masses.

(6-3) Search for Broader Alliances
Democratic transformation could not be achieved only by political forces that have faith in democracy; alliance-led democracy virtually needs the support of all categories in society, including businessmen, the religious institution, professionals and media agencies. This alliance had been experienced in the democratic transition experience in Eastern Europe. It is because of the absence of this alliance in the Arab world that the democratic experience is stumbling, given the fact that authoritarian ruling regimes depend on profit-oriented economy, religious legitimacy and the support of businessmen whose interests are associated with the ruling regime’s, in addition to ownership and guidance of the media institution whether directly or indirectly. Breaking the political authoritative monopoly demands something more like a broad “vertical” alliance that probes miscellaneous formations and classes of society to deduce an expanded alliance in favor of democracy and freedom, and that guarantees provision of popular and financial support and necessary legal cover.

(6-4) Pursuit of New Means of Mobilization
The democratic change experience in East Europe has put forward a model of creativity in producing mobilization tools and networking with the masses, forging an expertise that served to build its societies. What the Arab world really needs to learn from this experience is “innovation” in dealing with “rigid” reality through inference of cultural symbols and patterns derived from local environment to affect the society and utilize its inherent potential, prompting it to head for democratic change. Democratic transition is not founded on simulation of external models or imitation of tactics emanating from different local cultures, but actually through looking into “tactics” stemming from Arab culture with regards to the mobilization of the masses.

(6-5) Neutralizing International Support
There is a basic necessity for neutralizing the international support enjoyed by authoritarian regimes in the Arab world; the support that grants them the margin of “considerable” movement in subduing political forces advocating democratic change in the region. Civil societies in democratic countries have to be addressed and geared up for action to promote democracy-oriented efforts in the Arab world, while identifying the importance of neutralizing international support extended to Arab regimes as commonly used to perpetuate political authoritarian power.

*This report has been prepared be Mr. Sameh fawzy , An Egyptian researcher and the reporter of the workshop

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