The political upheavals which swept ERF’s region in early 2011 ushered in Islamist political parties in Egypt, Tunisia, and potentially elsewhere in the region. Deposed political regimes were generally perceived to have failed to deliver acceptable standards of living to the majority of their populations, denying them freedom and social justice in the meantime. There has been much discussion as to why the Islamist movements surged to the fore, and just as many questions about the likely development policies and outcomes of their ascendance to power. The fact that the track record of similar parties in other regions is mixed makes it doubly important to deal with questions about the conditions which would render this political development successful. This year’s conference is intended to do just that, primarily by attempting to understand the causes behind the rise of Islamist parties, the conditions under which they succeed and the likely outcome in Arab Spring countries.
Plenary Session 1: The Causes of the Arab Uprisings and the Rationale for the Rise of Islamist Parties to Power
This session will examine the root causes of the Arab uprisings and the rationale for the rise to power of Islamist parties. On the causes of the uprisings, the speakers will address such questions as: were the uprisings due to the failing of previous regimes to provide decent jobs for a growing population, to reduce poverty and to curb inequality and corruption? Or were the root causes social in nature, influenced by a growing middle class combined with limited social mobility? Was it due to political oppression and what role did the West play in the process, if any?
On the rise of Islamist political parties, history tells us that the region has been traditionally devout, but most countries have also been officially secular for centuries. So why did the uprisings lead to the rise of Islamist parties? Was it the power of ideology and organization? Do they offer a reform agenda that is likely to address the inadequacies of the previous regimes? How much of their success is due to the failure of other opposition parties to reach out to citizens? Finally, what do we know about the rise of such movements and their fates in other Islamic states?
Plenary Session 2: Comparative Economic Performance in Islamist-Governed Countries
This session will focus on what happens comparatively when Islamist parties attain power. Panelists will examine such questions as: do these parties develop defining characteristics as far as development policies are concerned? Are they monolithic? Are the resulting development outcomes similar? What might explain the differences in outcomes across such diverse countries as Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey? What lessons can we draw from this comparative analysis for Arab Spring countries?
Plenary Session 3: Outlook and Possible Scenarios
This session will contemplate the likely scenarios as a result of the Islamist party rule. Besides elaborating on their views on the likely political settlements in different countries in the region, the speakers will address such questions as: after decades in opposition, how well are Islamist political parties likely to manage the economy? Which path are they likely to follow; that of Turkey, Pakistan or Iran? To what extent are they likely to adjust their initial positions given the prevailing balance of power in different countries? And will they be able to strike a healthy balance between the neoliberal economic programs they have espoused with the need for social justice and income distribution? Finally, what are the prospects for power transitions in the future?