Carnegie hosted Sahbi Atig, member of National Constituent Assembly, Ennahda (Tunisia), Abdul Mawgoud Rageh Dardery, member of Parliament, Freedom and Justice Party—Luxor (Egypt), Mustapha Elkhalfi, minister of communications (Morocco), and Nabil Alkofahi, member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Action Front Party (Jordan) to discuss how their parties plan to address the challenges they face as they help to reform and build new regimes. Carnegie’s Marwan Muasher moderated.

Tunisia’s Peaceful Transition

  • Fostering Pluralism: After the ouster of President Ben Ali in January 2011, Tunisia quickly organized free and transparent elections and introduced a new constitution, said Atig. He explained that in just over a year, Tunisia has become a more inclusive, democratic state that welcomes all parties in its Constituent Assembly, protects freedom of expression, and upholds women’s rights.

  • Monitoring Mechanisms: Tunisia’s new leaders are taking steps to ensure that dictatorship will never return, Atig noted. These include the creation of a constitutional court, a committee to monitor elections, and a watchdog to enforce judicial neutrality.

  • Islam and Democracy: Atig argued that while an “Islamic tide is rising in the Arab world,” Islam does not contradict democratic values. Minorities are respected in Tunisia and there is “no sectarian strife between the different religions,” he added. Although Sharia law “upholds justice and freedom,” it tends to polarize society, so Tunisian political leaders excluded it from the new constitution, he said.   

  • Remaining Challenges: Moving forward, Tunisia must strike a balance between national reconciliation and accountability in the pursuit of transitional justice, Atig said. Until the new government took power, eighty percent of Tunisia’s economic growth was concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, while the inner provinces were underdeveloped. The government plans to “expand the governing base” through an ambitious program to curb unemployment, attract domestic and foreign investment, and improve security. 

Egypt after Mubarak

  • An “Egyptian Alternative”: Egyptians have long debated whether to pursue European modernity or cultivate a distinctly Egyptian state. Dardery suggested following a third option—an “Egyptian alternative”—that respects Egyptian traditions but also looks to Europe for guidance. This would include a parliamentary system to prevent the rise of another authoritarian ruler and a “culture of oppression,” Dardery noted, adding that the Freedom and Justice Party is “not interested in bringing another pharaoh back.”

  • A Civil State: After the fall of the Mubarak regime in February 2011, Egyptians adopted a democratization roadmap with parliamentary elections, a new constitution, and a presidential election. Dardery explained that as this process continues, the Freedom and Justice Party is more interested in promoting universal Islamic principles, such as freedom, democracy, and rule of law, than implementing stricter Islamic law.

  • Egypt’s Christian Community: Coptic Christians, he noted, should not be viewed as a minority but as equal Egyptian citizens with the same rights as Muslims.

  • The Way Forward: Dardery argued Egypt must avoid military rule, which he described as like a “theocracy but in a secular form.” Creating a society in which it is possible to meet openly, discuss sensitive issues, and agree to disagree is vital to Egypt’s democratic development, he concluded. 

Morocco’s Reform From Above

  • A Third Path: Morocco has begun implementing a top-down reform process as a middle road between the old system and revolution, Elkhalfi said. This “second generation of political reforms” builds on a decade of similar initiatives. He described the parliamentary elections in November 2011, when the Islamist Justice and Development Party won a majority of the votes, as a “revolution of the ballot box.”

  • The “Moroccan Exception”: Three factors are helping Morocco move “toward genuine democracy,” Elkhalfi noted. First, the monarchy has served as a unifying actor with religious legitimacy, helping preserve political pluralism since the election. Morocco also has a “dynamic and active civil society” that has embraced the reform process, he added. Finally, the Moroccan government has developed a “culture of integration” through its attempts to cooperate with Islamic movements since the mid-1990s. 

  • Lingering Challenges: A number of obstacles remain to the consolidation of democratic reform, including implementing the new constitution, combating corruption, decentralizing power, and increasing women’s participation in political life, Elkhalfi added. While Morocco has launched an ambitious program to address domestic issues such as poverty and illiteracy, it must also take advantage of the political opening across the Middle East and North Africa and develop closer ties with surrounding countries, he concluded.

Jordan’s Struggle to Reform

  • An Undemocratic Regime: Alkofahi drew a parallel between Jordan and Morocco, noting that both “monarchies do not have blood on their hands,” but argued that Jordanian King Abdullah II’s regime “is not serious about reform.” He stated that the government continues to isolate parliament and eliminate competition and its response to the growing protest movement has been tepid at best. Furthermore, the intelligence service is highly repressive and uses brutal tactics to intimidate opponents of the regime.

  • Justifications for Inaction: Jordan’s government often raises the “specter of Islamist movements” in order to bolster support for King Abdullah II, said Alkofahi. The regime has a tendency to use the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict and plight of Palestinian refugees in Jordan as a convenient excuse to halt democratization. In reality, however, the Palestinian problem “is just an illusion to hinder the reform process,” he noted.

  • The Islamist Alternative: Jordan’s Islamist movement is the only political entity that supports peaceful transfer of power and women’s participation in government, Alkofahi argued. Throughout Jordan’s history, he added, there has been no religious strife between Muslims and Christians. Political coalitions have overcome religious and ideological differences in the past, and Islamic parties have occasionally even elected Christian representatives.