x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Old Arab left has not kept up

In the Arab Spring countries, the old left wing has been muscled aside and has lost popular support, an academic writes. Other topics: Tunisia's revolution and Egypt's referendum.

Resilience of Islamist ideology has allowed it to supplant the old 'Arab left' in recent decades

The influence of the good old left in Arab politics has dramatically waned since the start of the Arab uprisings two years ago, Mauritanian scholar Sayed Ould Bah wrote in the UAE-based newspaper Al Ittihad yesterday.

The left has given way, he said, to a more generic "liberal movement" which is still incapable of winning over the masses that Islamists now claim as their own support base, he said.

Dr Ould Bah cited last week's leadership reshuffle in the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), Morocco's major left-wing party, as a prologue to his discussion of the wider regression of left-wing influence in other Arab countries, notably Egypt and Tunisia.

"The USFP has dwindled from a Number One position in the Moroccan political map to the lower ranks after last year's elections, in which the Islamic Justice and Development Party prevailed," Dr Ould Bah wrote.

This is a left-wing party that, unlike many of its counterparts in the Arab world, had all the ingredients to win over the masses. Its leadership counted charismatic and talented figures such as Medhi Ben Berka and Abderrahim Bouabid, at a time when the left in other Arab nations was led by militants from clandestine organisations or armed militias.

Also, the USFP has always benefited from the quality contributions of its intellectual elite, which included such heavyweights as the historiographer Abdallah Laroui and the philosopher Mohammed Abed Al Jabri.

"To be sure, the regression of the USFP is a function of a number of internal reasons … but it also fits into the larger context of the collapse of the 'Arab left' as we know it," the writer said.

In the 1970s, Arab Marxism started losing its edge to a new Islamic discourse that, paradoxically enough, used traditionally leftist ideals to mark an ideological departure from its Muslim Brotherhood roots, he noted.

The Arab world started seeing attempts by writers like Hassan Hanafi in Egypt to elaborate "an Islamic emancipation theology". In fact, Mr Hanafi published at some point a magazine, The Islamic Left, the writer went on. Soon Tunisia would catch up with this trend through a group called "Progressive Islamists".

But in their struggle for law and justice, these new Islamists across the Arab world did not do any better than the old leftists. Now things have changed.

"The dynamics of the Arab Spring have brought about a political scene that is pluralistic and diverse, yet is in fact split between two poles: a well-organised Islamic movement with a variety of components and a liberal movement that is remarkably inclusive of various orientations and formations, which explains both its efficient mobilisation and its electoral failure."

Amid this polarisation, the Arab left proper remains lethargic and not very effective.

The Tunisian situation remains alarming

Two years have passed since Mohammed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate working as a street vendor in Tunisia, set himself on fire in protest of humiliation he suffered at the hands of a municipal official.

During the 24 months since then, the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi said editorially yesterday, a new ambience of political, party and media pluralism has been introduced.

Freedom of expression, a far-fetched dream not long ago, became a reality. But, in parallel, economic failure remains a focal issue as unemployment rates continue to rise.

"The Tunisian revolution inherited monumental issues and crises, but it must be said that the government's shortfalls have been many, prompting calls for a more competent cabinet. The current government has committed a number of mistakes mainly due to prioritising loyalty over competence and to lack of political experience," the paper added.

Tunisia is facing a serious hazard, with more weapons being smuggled into the country, the rising influence of the Salafist groups and the proliferation of extremist Jihadist organisations in neighbouring countries, mainly in Libya, the paper noted.

The government promised to hold elections next summer, but has yet to set a date for them. The constitution that would define jurisdictions and tune the political process hasn't been drafted either.

Morsi and referendum are truly legitimate

Two issues must be emphasised regarding the situation in Egypt, columnist Mazen Hammad said in the Qatari daily Al Watan yesterday: the outcome of both rounds of the referendum for the constitution should be respected, and President Mohammed Morsi should be given a chance to complete his four-year term.

"This is the only recipe to protect the country from the political polarisation of the past few weeks," he said.

President Morsi was able to divide Egypt into two diverging camps; Brotherhood and non-Brotherhood. But Egyptians must agree among themselves about the president's legitimacy. Those who don't believe in his abilities or in the Brotherhood's system of rule will have to wait until the next presidential elections and try to deny Mr Morsi a second term as presidency, opined the writer.

"There are many reservations regarding the performance of President Morsi and the Brotherhood in general. The man has yet to prove that he is indeed a president for all Egyptians who can act outside the narrow Brotherhood agenda," he added. "But hope remains that tensions will decrease as preliminary indications revealed that the majority of Egyptians who partook in the referendum are willing to respect its outcome," he concluded.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk