India should have a bigger role in helping Arab countries trying to make the transition to democracy, say experts observing the Arab Spring — the wave of recent civil uprisings that led to the fall of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
In a riveting session on Arab uprising: causes and consequences at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Friday, experts also allayed fears of Islamist parties acting like “rabid fringes” in this transition process.
The fears had been sharpened following the victory of Al Nahada, an Islamist party in the elections in Tunisia, where the wave of uprisings that swept the Arab world, began in December 2010.
The panelists warned that monarchies in Gulf nations, like Saudi Arabia — the country with the maximum number of NRIs — cannot stave off political aspirations of their people by doling out economic goodies.
Emile Hokayem, senior fellow for regional security, International Institute for Strategic Studies, urged India to play a role beyond “trade”.
Echoing his views, Paul Salem, director, Carnegie Middle East Centre, said the transition is meant to test the strength and resilience of various institutions in these countries. India has had a nuanced position regarding the Arab spring.
While opposed to regime changes through external intervention, India has maintained that it supported the aspirations of the people in these countries to shape their future.
“Societies cannot be reordered from outside through military force. People in all countries have the right to choose their own destiny and decide their own future,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said while addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September.
But India had abstained from voting on the UN resolution authorising the use of force in Libya, which saw a civil war resulting in the fall of its government.
“The question of sovereignty and its limitations has been discussed for long. To what point external intervention can be welcomed on humanitarian grounds remains a complex issue,” Salem said.
Defending the events in Libya, Hokayem said its people favoured it.Citing the present situations in Tunisia, from where it all started, the two experts said the transition was “a long road rife with uncertainties”.
Zeyba Rahman, director of the renowned Morocco-based Fes Festival and Forum, helped allay the fears of Islamist parties gaining prominence in the democratic process in these countries.
“We should be less worried about Islamists. They are not a rabid fringe and have a nuanced worldview,” she said. Islamist parties are part of coalition in many countries from Turkey to Morocco, she added.