POMED Notes: “Islamists in Power: Views from Within”
On Thursday, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a conference with high-level representatives of Islamist parties from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Libya. Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, gave opening remarks. The first panel, titled “Building New Regimes After the Uprising,” featured Mustapha Elkhalfi, Moroccan minister of communication, Abdul Mawgoud Rageh Dardery, member of parliament for the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt, Nahil Alkofahi, member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Action Front Party in Jordan, and Sahbi Atig, member of National Constituent Assembly for the Ennahda party in Tunisia. Marwan Muasher, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, moderated the panel. The second panel, titled “Writing a New Constitution,” featured Khaled Al-Qazzaz, foreign relations coordinator for the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt, Osama Al-Saghir, a member of National Constituent Assembly for the Ennahda party in Tunisia, and Mohamed Gaair, public relations for the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. Nathan Brown, a senior associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, moderated the panel.
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Jessica Mathews opened the event by noting the growing tension of the West towards the new political developments in the Middle East. The Islamist movement is poorly understood by the West, and the rapid rise to power by Islamic political parties presents an uncertain future for many in the West. Mathews said that if delegates would address religion’s role in government, measures to protect individual freedoms, and assurances that Islamic parties would respect future elections, it would go a long way in encouraging the West to fully support the Islamist governments. After many years of stagnation, governments need to spur growth and support the private sector, Mathews said. Marwan Muasher divided the panelists into two camps, those from countries which experienced revolutions and those which were attempting to reform to stave off revolution. As the Islamist parties are “held to a higher standard,” the panelist should be able to address the rights of women, economic programs, treatment of minorities, and application of Islamic law under an Islamist regime.
Sahbi Atig said the Tunisian revolution was peaceful and fear of the regime was replaced by a mix of Islamic values and modernity. While the elections were organized quickly, they were transparent and pluralistic. Atig said that freedom and justice are pillars of Islam and he does not find a difference between democracy and Islamic law; therefore, a constitution will be created by consensus, with Islamic law as a legal reference. A top priority for Tunisia is creating jobs, and Atig proposed expanding the government to fill this shortfall.
Abdul Mawgoud Rageh Dardery believes there are three direction Egyptians can pursue, all of which are influenced by decades of European colonization. Egyptians could completely embrace modernity and emulate Europeans, go in the opposite direction and only follow Egyptian traditions, or, respect Egyptian tradition but not ignore European influences. Dardery called for a constitution that does not belong to the majority, but rather incorporates the desires of the Egypt’s minorities. One of the impending challenges Dardery foresees is creating an Egypt without a “Military Industrial Complex,” which he called to a secular form of theocracy. Mustapha Elkhalfi said the current system in Morocco is working, and while reforms must take place, they should not occur at the cost of civility. While King Mohammed VI’s reforms were met with skepticism, Elkhalfi believes the government should attempt to widen trust with the public. Elkhalfi concluded that Morocco should develop independent bodies to fight corruption. Nahil Alkofahi said Jordan is unique in the Arab Spring, as it is a monarchy which does not have blood on its hands. While Jordanians are well-educated, they suffer from corruption, institutions stalling on reform, and continued protests for change. As King Abdullah II acts as a direct source of unity, power, and ideology, Alkofahi believes the he should push for greater reform. Alkofahi said the state security apparatus requires reform, as it acts as a “strangulation against the people.”
During the question and answer session, Sahbi Atig said the economic developments have been stymied by the lack of good governance. The government needs to invest in small business and work with the private sector to spur job growth. Abdul Mawgoud Rageh Dardery called for greater dialogue so non-Muslims can better understand of Islamic law, which in Dardery’s opinion strives to create a consensus. Nahil Alkofahi said that diversity within a population is a source of enrichment, and while the Muslim Brotherhood does not have a problem with Jews, a precursor for future cooperation with Israel would involve it ending its aggression towards the Palestinians. Atig said the role of the military is to defend national borders and to stay out of politics.
Nathan Brown began the second panel, saying the constitutional process is critical for Arab Spring nations in progressing towards democracy. Brown said debates about constitutional frameworks were moving “out of the dusty college library to the street.” Khaled Al-Qazzaz said Egypt’s constitution will be built inclusively on universal values, and in a process for which one political party will not be solely responsible. Al-Qazzaz added that reform is needed because the poor are suffering disproportionately during the transitional period, and if other political parties refuse to participate then they will have to be left out. Osama Al-Saghir stressed that attempts at transparency, such as live broadcasts of parliament sessions with citizens allowed to express opinions via Facebook, restored the government’s legitimacy. The six committees formed with members from all over the political spectrum, will ensure that the steps to a new constitution will be clear to all, and encompass an array of views. Mohamed Gaair stated that fear instilled by former Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi will negatively influence the drafting of the constitution. Committees that draft the constitution will need to put it to a public referendum, to ensure all Libyans have a say in the laws that will govern Libya. Al-Saghir said, “A society that suffered marginalization will not do the same to others.”
During a question and answer session, Khaled Al-Qazzaz believes Islamic law should be the primary source in the constitution, as it sets a framework of values. A strong civil society will also be able to provide one of the government checks within Egypt. Mohamed Gaair said incorporating Islamic law into the constitution would be less problematic in Libya, since all Libyans want Islamic law and most hail from the same Sunni tradition. Osama Al-Saghir said that while Tunisia will draw laws from international standards, they will not be automatically accepted; that decision will be up to Tunisians. Al-Qazzaz said he is committed to maintaining checks and balances which stop Egypt from returning to a dictatorship, and said the most hotly-debated topics were whether Egypt’s democracy would be presidential or parliament, and the military’s role in the State. Gaair said a major focus for Libya is to develop rural areas and to mend the schism developed under Gaddafi.