Searching for a new social contract in Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco

Published 09.11.2014 22:58

Tunisia and Morocco have improved their standards of democracy and positively responded to the demands of their people throughout the Arab Spring. The transformation of these two countries in many ways resemble the transformation of Turkey that has been ongoing for the last 12 years

The fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring, a series of uprisings that started in December 2010 and affected the entire Arab world from Tunisia to Yemen, is around the corner. The downfall of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt had built up expectations and led many observers to believe that revolution would introduce overdue democratization efforts to the region. Setbacks in Libya and Syria, however, rapidly turned the spring into winter. Later, in July 2013, the ouster of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt represented a major accomplishment for the counter-revolution supported by the Gulf countries.

Today, Tunisia and Morocco represent the sole surviving experiences of the Arab Spring. Tunisia, a republic where the military has lost all its influence, aims to facilitate power-sharing in a tense yet peaceful manner. The rational politics of Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda Movement, plays a critical role in maintaining domestic peace and drafting a new constitution that led the country to the second free elections. Morocco, unlike Gulf monarchies, responded to the demands of its citizens and opted to transfer some of the king's powers to parliament. On February 20, 2011, the opposition movement, therefore, did not evolve into a revolution seeking to eliminate the monarchy.

Although he lacked the vast economic resources available to Gulf monarchies, King Mohammed VI of Morocco managed to safeguard his legitimacy by implementing a policy of gradual change. He thus positioned himself as an impartial umpire in the eyes of all political parties including the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the victor of the 2011 elections and the majority partner of the country's current government. Having balanced out the ideological tensions between leftist and liberal parties and the Islamist PJD through his presence, Mohammed VI currently serves as the guarantor of gradual change and development. It is under these circumstances that Morocco moves toward the 2015 local elections and the 2016 parliamentary race. The country, where the distribution of wealth has yet to change to benefit the less unfortunate, has ostensibly drawn valuable lessons from the post-Arab Spring chaos and conflict in the region.

A few days ago, the SETA Foundation organized an event called The Quest for a New Social Contract in North Africa to compare the experiences of Turkey and Morocco. The conference established that a joint interpretation of the developments in Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey would provide valuable insights. First and foremost, we witnessed that the Moroccan authorities closely followed Turkey's efforts regarding development, democratization and new secularism. Over the years, all three countries have succeeded in incorporating Islamic movements into their political system. As a matter of fact, these movements have served in single-party governments, i.e., Turkey, as well as coalition governments like Tunisia and Morocco. Experimenting with political power has rendered Islamic movements effective in transforming the relationship between religion and politics in the Middle East and triggered a regional debate about "genuine secularism" with regard to the policies of Islamic movements in power and their performance in the opposition. This time, secularism does not represent a top-down, oppressive project or an agent of Westernization, but facilitates a discussion around the competition between different lifestyles and interpretations of Islam. This is an inquiry that legitimate political actors engage in and transform for themselves.

Another interesting issue is that Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco take steps to compose a new social contract - albeit at different stages. Tunisia and Morocco, which managed to draft new constitutions, face the challenge of institutionalizing their democracies and make economic progress. Meanwhile, Turkey, whose economy has been performing well, must avoid the middle income trap and, as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu put it, make a second leap forward. More importantly, Turkish authorities must complete the new social contract, which began with Kurdish and Alevi openings, through a new constitution. Briefly put, building a new Middle East requires the determination to let various experiments with democratization coexist and their institutionalization. Like the new Turkey, we desperately need to capitalize on the experiences of the new Tunisia and new Morocco.


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