By Anwar Elshamy
“Some regimes have, under Western pressure, allowed for superficial democratic changes which are merely embellishments used to improve the bad image of these regimes,” a leading Egyptian politician has said.
Secretary general of Egypt’s Al-Ghad Party, Naji al-Ghatrifi, told a session titled “Opposition and Power” held as part of the sixth Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade, that such regimes have been playing double games as in the case of the establishment of civil society organisations.
Speaking about opposition parties in Egypt, al-Ghatrifi said the Mubarak regime was responsible for their poor performance in the recent elections.
He has attributed the weakness of the opposition parties to several factors. “Firstly, the fact that an emergency law has been in force in Egypt for the last 25 years, and secondly, the lack of access to media.
“Al-Ghad Party has refused to be a party to the evil design of the regime, aimed at deceiving the West into thinking that democratic changes are underway”, al-Ghatrifi said while observing that the recent amendment of Article 76 of the Egyptian constitution put insurmountable obstacles on the way of any opposition leader opting to run for the presidential elections.
Ahmad Najib al-Shabi, a lawyer from Tunisia, said that regimes have spared no efforts to fight all forms of opposition in the Arab countries. “Opposition has been criminalised throughout the Arab world,” al-Shabi said.
According to him, the Tunisian regime has subdued the opposition by different means including marginalisation and establishing “unreal” opposition forces. “They cracked upon opposition through political manipulations,” he said adding that such undemocratic practices have generated a state of frustration and passivity among the people.
Al-Shabi has differentiated between two types of opposition in the Arab countries; the first is the liberal or leftist opposition while the second is the Islamists, who are based on religious ideology.
“Only the Political Islam is on the rise while both the Leftist and Liberal opposition have been a big failure”.
“The Islamic opposition introduces itself as the solution and the substitute to the existing regimes. They have capitalised on the weakness of political opposition, especially that the programmes of the Islamists have social and educational dimensions.”
“However, they have started to adopt democratic concepts,” citing the recent developments in Turkey, Egypt and Palestine as examples.
The head of the Arab Centre for Development and Future Research, Jameel Matar, said real political reforms have not been embarked on yet in Arab countries and that democracy has experienced setbacks around the world, especially in new democracies like Ukraine.
Matar has also referred to the heavy costs of political reforms which sparked sectarian rifts and posed real threats to the national unity of the state citing the ongoing sectarian violence and the rise of the extremists as glaring examples.
Matar has also lamented the recent hike in oil prices saying that it poses a threat to democracy because, “it means more empowerment and strength to those who are in power which, in turn, would generate more squeeze on the opposition.”
“Opposition parties have been stigmatised as inciting and dividing the nation,” Matar concluded.
Hatim Abdul Qadir, Fatah movement member from Palestine deplored the failure to form a government of national unity with Hamas so as to counterbalance the embargo imposed on the Palestinian people.
He pointed out that opposition parties in the Arab world have no clear programme.
According to him, opposition parties have been losing ground to Political Islam in Arab countries. “It is not enough to say that Islam is the solution, there are lots of questions you should tackle as well”, he said while remarking that Islamists should go beyond the phase of slogans.
Basma Ghadmani, the moderator lamented the absence of the representatives of National Democratic Party (Egypt) and the Hamas movement, who were invited to take part in this session.