The second day of the conference, “The Arab Revolutions Five Years On: The Arduous Road of Democratization and Future Prospects”, jointly organized by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) and the Issam Fares Institute, commenced on Friday January 22. The first session, “Arab Political Movements and the Revolutions: Roles and Transformations”, chaired by Professor Jihad El Zein, opened with a contribution from Salameh Kaileh who discussed the role of the Left in the Arab Spring. Prior to the revolutions, noted Kaileh, the Left was either in alliance with the ruling regime, such as in Iraq, Syria, Tunisia and Morocco, or tilted towards liberalism and democracy. The result was that the Left did not fully comprehend the situation of the social classes it claimed to represent, and was left surprised, if not shocked, at the eruption of the revolutions.

Nagwan Al-Ashwal’s “Islamist Political Movements and the Democratic Process” discussed the Gamaa al-Islamiya in Egypt, exploring how its interaction with the political sphere affected its ideology and behavior. Based on interviews with members of the Gamaa, and an analysis of the movement’s literature, Al-Ashwal illustrated how, over time, the movement has evolved. From the period it broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood in 1970, to its planning of a coup, to Sadat’s assassination followed by the use of armed violence, and its subsequent detention and prison, with Egypt’s January 25 revolution came the period of political work. Al Ashwal gave a review of the organization’s evolution, and its role in Egypt’s revolution, including the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Why has the pathway of the Ennahda movement in Tunisia differed to that of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt asked Khalil Al-Anani, in a presentation comparing Islamic Movements in Egypt and Tunisia Differences between the two movements are evident in the political, cultural, and social contexts; in the trajectory of the post-revolution transition; in strategies adopted; and in the regional and international context. Where they retained similarities, he notes, was the fact they shared the same intellectual origin, a history of being oppressed and excluded from the political arena prior to the revolution, and that neither movement ignited the revolution in its country but took part once it had started.

A parallel session entitled “Political Movements and the Revolutions: Roles and Transformations”, was chaired by Rayan El-Amine. Zoltan Pall opened this session with “How do Lebanese Salafists Establish their Religious Authority in the Post-Arab Spring Period?”. Many studies, he said, attribute the success of the Salafi movement to its ability to attract young people facing an identity crisis, one generally linked to modernity. He continued, “In Lebanon, the Salafists attract Sunnis who feel a sense of deprivation and injustice in comparison with other groups in better conditions”. Northern Lebanon, he added, which is Sunni majority, has seen the growth of the influence of the Salafi movement in the period after the Arab revolutions.

Egyptian Ahmad Abdul Hamid Hussein presented a case study of the Misr al-Qawia Party in his paper “The Transition to Democracy: Between Polarization and the Absence of an Alternative”. When the Arab revolutions exploded, he argued, no forms of party or movement, democratic or non-democratic, were at the forefront. “The masses remained driven under their own steam and propelled by sweeping anger against economic, social, and political conditions that had created a major crisis in the Arab street.” He was followed by Mohamed-Ali Adraoui, who spoke on “The Foreign Policies of Islamist Movements”. In his view Islamist movements understood international relations well; including moderate Islam in foreign policy, he claimed, makes it more dynamic.

The next two sessions, both under the title “The State and Revolutions: Containment and Confrontation” were chaired by Bashar Haydar. The first paper by Mehdi Mabrouk discussed the deep state and the democratic transition in Tunisia. Mehdi explored the term “deep state” and traced its emergence in the 1990s, when it was used to describe the Turkish political regime. It then appeared in a second wave to describe the Pakistani situation, and its third wave came with the Arab Spring, where it referred to the importance of the military institution in administering government, and all related bodies that dictate or influence political decisions. Mabrouk thought there was an irony in using this term in Tunisia, where the army played a role of positive neutrality. In “The Dilemma of the Arab Spring: The State in Opposition to Change”, Ouled Bahi Boun noted that the wave of change was marked by variances from state to state, and that this difference depended on the level of state power and its ability to fight back. Post Arab Spring period, he said, we must ask where the breakdown in this experience lies, and to what extent can the Arab state be viewed as being against change? Boun stated there are three truisms post Arab Spring: there is no such thing as Arab exceptionalism; the people have become politically present; and the Arab world is changing at the hands of society. 

The demands across all the Arab Spring states were similar but the paths were different, said Mohammed Elagati in his discussion of “The Structure of the Arab State and Democratization: Examples from Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco”. In his view, the democratic transition after the revolutions went through four stages: collapse of the authoritarian regime; the establishment of a democratic regime and the instituting of democracy; commitment to democracy, and the maturity of the new democratic regime. Popular movements, said Malika Zekhnini, unraveled the reality of the crisis-ridden nation states.  Focusing on the Maghreb, Zekhnini claimed that the revolutions did not lead to democratization because of imbalances in the structure of the nation state since independence, and the related tensions between the religious and the secular, the civil and the military, and the international and the regional, not to mention the colonial structure.

The parallel session on the same theme was chaired by Mona Harb with the first contribution from Michael C. Hudson on “Failing or Surviving? Unpacking the Crises of the Arab State”. Touching on a recurrent theme addressed by others in the conference, Hudson reiterated that the 2011 uprising dramatically revealed the weakness of the Arab state. The earthquake and its aftershocks are still ongoing, he claimed, and the opposition to date, almost in all cases, has failed in achieving effective cohesion.  The paper of Clement Henry, “Stateness and Revolution in the Arab World” made an interesting link between the teachings of Lenin in his book State and Revolution and the Arab uprisings.

Mohammad El Shewy talked on Egypt: “Transitioning within Authoritarianism”, challenging the claim that the implementation of transitional justice would aid develop democratic institutions. He held that transitional justice failed to deal with the transformations and to anticipate the developments within the structures of the authoritarian state. He preferred the notion of “failed transformations” because transitional justice, in his opinion, reproduces totalitarian states and does not solve the major issues. The session concluded with Daniel P. Brown in “How far Above the Fray? Unpacking the Mechanisms of the Monarchical Advantage in the Arab Uprisings”. In his view, presidents did not build relationships with citizens, which is why some considered monarchies to be preferable to other systems. The Jordanians, for instance, prefer the continuation of the monarch rather than their country turning into a new Syria, said Brown.

Sessions resumed in the afternoon. The first, “Arab Armies and the Revolutions: Redefining the Roles”, was chaired by Samer Frangie. An interesting comparison between Egypt’s situation and that of Thailand was given by Hani Awwad with the first paper of the session “The Historical Development of ‘the Apolitical’ in Egypt. He asked why the coup in Egypt did not leave a margin for opponents, or space for a resolution? The July revolution, according to Awwad, was a merciless security option, as was the latest coup, whereas in other places, such as Thailand, the army left a margin to contain elements of the political opposition. Another historical approach was given by Hassan Al Hajj Ali Ahmed in the “New Military Professionalism: its Impact on the Arab Revolutions”, where he compared the old role of the armies, whose focus was on the Arab-Israeli conflict, to its new shift toward greater security, political, and economic role. In Egypt, he claimed, we are dealing with a military and security complex; in Syria with a creed-based army; and in Yemen with a military, business, and tribal complex.

With more on the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Army, Carla Issa, following a historical view from 1954 to present-day Egypt, noted how the deep state in Egypt, and the excessive violence practiced by the regime, have derailed the democratization process set in train by the January revolution. The final contribution to the session was “State Power, Transitions and Resilience: The Securitization of Democracy in Egypt and Tunisia” presented by Arnaud Kurze, who maintained that the growing threat of the Islamic State was being exploited to justify the securitization of society in the post Arab Spring period. This securitization is taking the form of laws and repressive practices in the name of national security, which is intensifying polarization within society and reinforcing control by means of fear, silencing, and appropriation.

The parallel session, “The Democratic Transition: Approaches and Questions”, was chaired by Bassel Salloukh. The first two papers addressed the Moroccan context. The first, a contribution by Mohammed Bask Mana, dealt with the constitutional and political experience in Morocco following the revolutions, and researched the constitutional and political events undergone by Morocco following the February 20 Movement protests. The second, by Sidi Moulay Ahmed Aylal, focused on the democratic process in Morocco and the challenge of its effectiveness. Aylal believes that the demand for accountability finds itself without an implementation mechanism in Morocco, and to date remains restricted to persons close to the king.

Georges Fahmi spoke on Al-Azhar and Support for Democracy in Egypt from 2011-2015, in an effort to investigate whether Islam and democracy are compatible, with focus on the oldest religious education institution in Egypt. The session concluded with Antonio-Martín Porras-Gómez in “Constitutional Law for the Arab Uprisings”. Porras-Gómez maintained that in spite of delays and setbacks, the Arab revolutions succeeded in launching a process changing and reforming the constitutions and noted that considerable similarities are found in many articles of the constitutions of Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco.

A special roundtable followed dedicated to prominent activists who had taken part in the Arab revolutions, chaired by Fawwaz Traboulsi. Abdul Rahman Mansour from Egypt claimed he felt the need to participate in the revolution following the historic opportunity that arose to come out against the regime of Hosni Mubarak. In his view, the revolution succeeded in introducing ordinary, non-activist citizens and marginalized groups into the political equation, and that, in time, that will produce a democratic movement. Tunisian Lamine Bouazizi did not agree with the claim that the revolution was a youth revolution. The town where the revolution was sparked, he added, was one inhabited by farmers. Bouazizi’s self-immolation, he continued, was not a miraculous event, but the accumulation of a political scene that had organized tens of sit-ins in the provinces. The security apparatus in Tunisia did not respond because it knew too well its time was up.

Syrian activist Al-Waleed Yahya, previously a journalist in Iraq, noted how the slogans started out as demand-based and were highly eloquent. Yemeni activist Jamal Al Maliki remarked that he struggled to find another example like the one of Yemen, where people protested for more than a year demanding freedom, dignity and decent living without resorting to violence. Echoing the use of non-violence, Egyptian activist Mohammed Shams said that the revolution in Egypt had no intention to use violence or even thought about violence, despite its presence on the fringes of the revolution’s events. From Syria, Majd Al Shurbaji related her disturbing experience of detention in Syria, where she was tortured without being interrogated. Al Shurbaji said that detention camp authorities were far more afraid of non-violent activists than armed activists. Also from Syria, activist and journalist Deema Wanous said that she supported the elimination of the entire apparatus of the Syrian regime, including the army and intelligence services, and not just Assad.

Concluding the second day of the conference was the keynote lecture of Gilbert Achcar: “Can the Arab people topple the regime with the state in place? Achcar made a distinction between the patrimonial state and the modern state, and considered that the latter makes a separation between institutions and the individuals who wield power, while the former is the personal property of the rulers. He noted that the Arab world has the greatest concentration of patrimonial states, whether monarchies or republics, which have turned into “repubdoms”.  A feature of the patrimonial state, he added, is that it builds entirely loyal institutions, which makes any attempt to overthrow the regime end in violence. The uprisings, he said, did not start in patrimonial states, but in Egypt and Tunisia, both of which were neo-patrimonial countries occupying a middle position between the two poles, being neither patrimonial states nor modern. They are also distinct from Syria and Libya, however, because the apparatus of the state has resilience and the rulers did not reassemble it from scratch as happened in Syria and Libya. That allowed for the overthrow of the regime, and for the it to be differentiated from the state, something not possible in Syria or Libya, at least not without resorting to violence.

To overthrow the regime without causing the collapse of the state, Achcar suggested a strategy based on a counter-hegemony from within the apparatus of the state with the aim of changing the regime without destroying the state. This, he stressed, requires a precise identification of the regime, a sweeping away of illusions, an identification of the mechanisms and tools of the regime within the state, and the unification of the social base in order for the candidate revolutionary forces to avoid sectarianism and tribalism.