A double-edged challenge
The deepening politico-economic crisis in the Arab Spring countries can be attributed mainly to the failure of the political class in these countries to gradually draw up a consensual new order that accommodates various groups while at the same time addressing the deteriorating economic, social and security conditions in these countries. After all, the masses cannot wait for order to prevail to have matters of urgency addressed.
The resignation of former Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali highlights this point. Sensing that the political crisis needs handling of a different type, he proposed a technocrat-led government. Much to the surprise of many, opposition to his proposal came from no quarter other than his own party, Ennahda, where he once occupied an influential position, being its secretary-general ascending out of that post to the prime ministerial post.
It is significant that a leading Islamist came up with a proposal rejected by his own party, which then forced him to resign his executive post. Jebali’s proposal apparently comes from his experience of running a government and testing reality away from populist slogans. Those who assumed office in post-Arab Spring revolutions came from years of opposition and with hardly any executive experience.
To complicate matters further, opposition groups took the easy way out by criticizing the government and turning a blind eye to the use of violence instead of coming out clearly in support of law and order and extending a hand in building this new order and developing its detailed socio-economic program on how to deal with a host of socio-economic problems. What is ironic is that the Western countries, led by the United States, have given their tacit support to the Islamist-led government at the expense of supposedly close allies of liberals and secularists in the opposition camp.
A popular question posed in Tunisia is whether Jebali will remain a member of Ennahda and keep a low profile, or whether he would form his own party and, by virtue, break away from Ennada. If that is to happen, it will simply highlight the growing phenomenon of Islamists in opposition as they were in government, in effect controlling the two isles of the political landscape.
It seems that the Arab Spring did not end up in Islamist governments only, but that Islamist groups are poised to form the opposition too, at least for the time being. Despite the tumultuous, uncharted path to replace the autocratic regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, non-Islamist opposition, composed mainly of liberals and secularists, have so far failed to make use of missteps committed by government actions and develop a political alternative.
In fact, the phenomenon is spreading even outside the realm of Arab Spring countries. In Sudan, which is facing growing political, economic and security challenges, an alliance of Islamic parties and groups is developing an alternative Islamist program that contradicts the one adopted by rebels, liberal and secular groups. Their idea is to provide an Islamic opposition that may inherit the regime of President Omar Bashir.
However, mainstream Islamist movements like the Ennahda and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are faced with yet another challenge from the Salafist movements, who have a remarkable grassroots presence and continue questioning the Ennahada and the Brotherhood’s Islamic credentials. Yet at the same time, they have been tasked by liberals and secularists with designing the creation of a religious state. Ennahda’s answer to this challenge would be to engage the Salfists in the political process.
The rise of Islamists on both the government and opposition sides could be attributed mainly to the fact that they have been barred from the political activity for decades, so when the defunct regimes tumbled, the only recognized opposition was that of the Islamists. Moreover, most liberal and secular opposition leaders were associated somehow with defunct regime at one point or another, which weakens their stance among the masses.
Yet the biggest issue remains on how to establish legitimacy that ensures the right of various groups to participate in the political process in a more inclusive way and how those who fail to make it in the votes to continue to respect the will of the ballot box in a climate of peace and coexistence.