All over the Arab world, Islamist, liberal and leftist groups have had the idea of coming together to challenge political oppression and to voice more effectively their demands for reform. This requires them to put aside their ideological differences and focus on those areas in which they are in agreement. Their common objectives are the establishment of true democracy and guaranteed political and civil rights enabling their political participation. This requires the building of a new regime and constitution, with the separation of powers, free and transparent elections, and the limiting of executive powers. Addressing the issues of oppression and corruption leads to questioning the legitimacy of the current regime. However, these opposition groups are keen to distinguish between the current regime and the state as a public and objective institution. They are also keen to stand by the principle of peaceful and non-revolutionary change in their mission to bring about a new democratic order.
There are difficult questions that have yet to be addressed in order to reach a consensus: does everyone want to change the regime? Or do some want to participate in it? What would be the nature of the next regime? How does each group know that it is not used by another group that might monopolize power in the future? Other sources of tension are the disparity in public support for the different ideological groups, which favors the Islamists, the somewhat condescending view taken by leftists and liberals who see the Islamists as oppressive and populist, and the fact that the Islamists are treated differently by the regime to the other opposition groups. The lack of shared ideology, the memory of mutual hostility and conflict in the past and the oppression practiced in present examples of Islamist regimes further undermine confidence in the success of this kind of political alliance. The question of how or whether to integrate the Islamists politically is particularly controversial, with some supporting the model of the complete democracy where the Islamists are entirely integrated, others in favor of a limited democracy, and others entirely opposed to allowing their participation. Over the course of 2009, the Arab Reform Initiative held four conferences, each one addressing a particular dimension of this project. A selection of researchers from all over the Arab world, distinguished by their expertise in this area and by their political and ideological affiliation, were invited to come together to present and discuss research papers.
The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.