The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) organized a symposium on the Arab Left and its role in the revolutions and democratic transitions in the Arab world. Held on April 9 at the Center's Beirut office, the meeting brought together a number of Arab scholars from leftist and nationalist movements, including Lebanese academics, Tunisian and Egyptian scholars, and ACRPS researchers from its Doha and Beirut offices. Alternately chaired by Dr. Wajih Kawtharani, Researcher and Director of the ACRPS Beirut office, and ACRPS researchers Walid Nouiehed and Dr. Marlene Nasr, the event included the discussion of key papers, examining the current role of the Left in the region, with specific examples from Egypt and Tunisia.
Walid Nouiehed presented Syrian writer Shamsaldin al-Kilani's paper "An Introduction to the Arab Nationalists' Stances toward the Arab Spring," which focused on the common tools adopted by Arab regimes to govern and control citizens. He argued that this eventually led to a distorted modernity and the collapse of political life in the name of revolutionary avant-garde. Al-Kilani described the waning of the Left, beginning in the 1980s, and the way in which the Left had been reduced to mere sloganeering. He suggested that while Arab nationalist movements, who were frightened of Islamists, were left in disarray by the Arab revolutions; they had no choice but to ride the wave of the revolutions given the new consciousness among the Arab masses demanding democracy, liberty, and development.
In discussing al-Kilani's paper, ACRPS researcher Jamal Barout pointed out that the post-independence phase within Arab states was not one dominated by the democratic model, but one primarily overshadowed by nation-building. Barout was cautious of the use of the phrase "Arab Spring," pointing out that it was too early to tell how the revolutions would turn out in the affected countries, claiming that "The period we are living in has more far-reaching implications than what is suggested by the phrase ‘Arab Spring'. We are going through a third major transformational phase. The first, occurring at the twilight of the Ottoman era, was the Arab Renaissance or Nahda, and the second was the period which followed the independence of the Arab states." Barout stated that the role of researchers and analysts is to look deeper into the causes behind the events unfolding, noting that "there is a lack of awareness on what is happening. We lack data and are, thus, in the midst of consultations and discussions rather than being in a state of certainty."
Tunisian scholar Al Mawludi al-Ahmar presented a paper on "The Arab Left and Its Role in Revolution and the Democratic Transition" in which he tackled the political history of Leftist movements in Tunisia, and the role of the trade unions in fostering the opposition during recent decades. Al-Ahmar noted how the Tunisian Left was not only late in reacting to the revolution and the fall of Ben Ali, but also noted how they suffered from ideological fragmentation. Meanwhile, Discussant Suleiman Takieddine spoke of the "distortions of Arab societies with regards to sectarianism, regionalism, tribalism, [and] corruption". Takieddine pointed out that the social composition of Leftist political parties is largely marginal, and that the Left is faced with a number of difficulties in defining its role in the Arab countries. To Takieddine, the Left suffered an identity crisis in regards to their role and organizational structure. Takieddine posed the following question: "how is it that capitalism is capable of renewing itself after the fatal blow suffered by socialism?" He concluded with a call for the Left to make use of modern communications technology, and to have a deeper, more sympathetic understanding of religion and religious institutions, such as places of worship and charities. This would pave the way, he said, to a "civil society".
Dean of Cairo's International Media Institute, Dr. Mohammed Shuman, presented a comparative study of Egypt and Tunisia's Leftist parties, warning of the acute polarization between Islamist and "civil" political forces currently being witnessed in both countries. Shuman expressed the fear that the "Pakistani model"-fluctuating between democracies and military coups d'état-might be repeated in Egypt, but pointed out that this was less likely in Tunisia, where the transition was bound by a timeline. Shuman criticized the Left in Egypt for the fact that it was late to join the ranks of the revolution in its country. Calling on Leftist groups to embrace the experience of Latin America, he closed by saying: "There can be no [revolutionary] future without the Left, because it is the Left which will add a social dimension to this historical transformation."