[P3553] Islamist Pragmatists, Secular Spoilers?: Contesting the Rules of the Game in the New Middle East, Part II

Created by SYSTEM Manager
Saturday, 10/12/13 11:00am


The convulsions that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa since 2011 have intensified a contest already long underway in the region between closed authoritarian regimes and more representative forms of government. This panel has a twofold aim: On the one hand it will investigate the tensions that have prevented the emergence of a consensus on the rules of a more democratic political game. On the other hand it will study how old and new political and social actors have interacted with the often chaotic processes of change. A thorough understanding of developments mandates attention to several aspects: One of them is obviously competition for power and influence in the new political set-up. Since no single recipe for transition to constitutional democracy exists, every step is open for contention between political factions and social and institutional actors who each see their interests best served by a particular kind of process. This becomes intertwined with another aspect: ideological disagreements, such as the one that broadly separates Islamists from secularists of various hues. The polarisation between these forces, constantly threatening to block the road ahead, has triggered attempts at creating new movements on a consensus platform. A factor here is the emergence of youth groups independent of established parties, though these may also develop more radical agendas. A third central issue is competing social and economic agendas. This is often presented as an ideological struggle around the direction to be taken by economic reform, a fight between neo-liberalism and social justice. Just as important, however, is to study how various social interest groups have sought to organise and call for redress of long-held grievances. This leads to a final aspect: the difficult relationship between position and opposition. Those in government, whatever their ideological colour, are faced with the need to balance state budgets and turn the economic wheels. They are faced with these challenges in the midst of an upsurge of legitimate demands for economic improvement. The papers will investigate these issues across a range of cases both from the countries of the Arab uprisings and from settings like Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine/Israel. Actors in position and opposition will be discussed. Rather than in terms of an Islamist winter descending on the region, understanding will be sought through analysing the political contest as reflecting the troubled accommodation of competing forces to a new political game with as yet unsettled rules.


Pol Science



    Bjorn Olav Utvik

    (University of Oslo)
    Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer;