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Research Workshop: Democratization and Human Rights
In the framework of its research programme 2005-2006, EuroMeSCo organised a research workshop on the issue of “Democratisation and Human Rights” in the Moroccan city of Tétouan on 15-16 July 2006.
The first session was introduced by Prof. Meliha Benli Altunisik (Middle East Technical University, Ankara) who is part of a research group, directed by the CERSS in Rabat and the IEEI in Lisbon, that has been conducting a EuroMeSCo study on “Political Liberalisation and Transition to Democracy: Lessons from the Mediterranean and Beyond – the Case of Morocco, Turkey, Spain and Portugal”. In her presentation, Altunisik focused particularly on the democratization process in Turkey and argued that processes of democratization do not necessarily have to be linear but can suffer setbacks or, as in the words of Samuel P. Huntington, waves of re-democratization. Yet, she argued that despite these problems since Turkey’s transition to multiparty politics in 1946, competitive elections and peaceful transfer of power following national electoral contests have been the principal characteristics of Turkish politics. Furthermore, she pointed to the importance of the linkage of external and internal factors in processes of democratization and outlined those that have been relevant for Turkey, such as the post-World War II environment, the international community’s emphasis on stability over democratization during parts of the Cold War years, the increasing divergence within the Western bloc in the 1980s with respect to the Soviet threat, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the EU’s Helsinki Summit of 1999, as well as the EU’s decision in October 2005 to take up membership negotiations with Turkey.
She concluded her presentation with a discussion of the compatibility of Islam and democracy and argued that the democratization of the political landscape in Turkey gave Islamist groups an organizational space but also forced them into moderate politics as they also had to take into account the secular sensibilities of the voter. Moreover, she explained that the Islamist movement realized that their rights could only be protected under a democratic system based on the rule of law and the protection of individual rights. Turning towards institutions and civil society, she concluded that the Turkish experience showed the importance of institutional norms and structures in facilitating processes of democratization.
These remarks paved the way for the subsequent and somewhat broader debate on democratization issues and it was argued by some that for processes of democratic transition to succeed, it may even be detrimental to use the term as such without jeopardizing the reform process itself. With this in view, one participant discussed the political situation in Morocco and maintained that the recent political developments are difficult to categorize. Although numerous laws were introduced since Mohammed VI came to power, it would be, in the participant’s view, premature to speak already of a Moroccan democratization process.

The second session focused on the issue of “Islamic Parties in the Maghreb and their Connections with Europe: Growing Influences and the Dynamics of Democratisation” and was introduced by Amel Boubekeur and Samir Amghar, currently EuroMeSCo junior exchange researchers at the CEPS in Brussels. At the centre of their presentation were three major questions: 1.) What are the objectives of Islamic parties in North Africa and which political realities do they face?; 2.) Which influence do these parties exert on their branches in Europe?; 3.) Which place do these parties have in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership?
Their findings show that the vast majority of Islamic parties are still seen in Europe as dangerous and violent opposition movements and that a true discourse between them and the EU is still inexistent. In principle, Boubekeur and Amghar maintained that the presence of Islamic parties and their participation in the domestic political game, as well as their de-demonization in the national press, were a sign of the new political opportunities in Algeria and Morocco in particular. Yet, they qualified that statement and emphasized that these developments were not bound to make a big difference unless true political reforms were introduced. According to Boubekeur and Amghar, hardly any of the Islamic parties, most of which have a great number of followers among women and youth, express anti-European resentments, but rather worry about the discourse led within the EU on the issue of how to cope with Hamas, as well as with Islam in Europe. The session concluded with a debate on whether it can be maintained that Islamic parties in the Maghreb act and thus “behave” like ordinary “non-religious” parties and whether a link between their acceptance and their further inclusion into the political system, and thus a normalisation as regards their image, can be established.

In the third session, Noha Antar, currently EuroMeSCo junior exchange researcher at the SWP in Berlin, presented her study on “The Egyptian Legislative Elections 2005: The Muslim Brotherhood Success and its Implications”. She argued that the Muslim Brotherhood’s relative success in the parliamentary elections of 2005 has to be seen in the light of some reform measures that were introduced in the last four years and the recent changes that took place in the Egyptian political landscape. According to her findings, the Brotherhood cannot be considered a radical movement, but too often is discredited by the ruling elite and thus radicalised from within the political system, as well as by other external actors. In her view, it is in particular this supposedly false image of being a radical movement, but also its position vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Hamas, that have contributed to the group’s stigmatisation by international actors, such as the EU.
With respect to the broader issue of the research seminar, i.e. democratization, Antar touched upon other Egyptian reform movements and argued that Kefaya, one of the more prominent opposition movements in Egypt, and its putative alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood may have positive repercussions as regards steps towards political liberalisation. Yet, she warned participants of high expectations as Kefaya’s current organisational structure is rather underdeveloped and its mobilisation potential possibly unsustainable.