Secularists say the Islamist-dominated Constitutional Committee rushed
through the constitution, which they say fails to protect women and
minority groups. The new constitution was approved in what Morsi
described as a "totally transparent" two-round public referendum in
'Divide Has Always Been There'
In Tunisia, the country that set off the region's wave of pro-democracy
movements in December 2010, secularists and Islamists are also at odds.
The Islamist-led transitional government writing a new constitution says
it does not intend to introduce Islamic law. But secularist groups fear
that could change before the constitution is finalized sometime early
in 2013. Maha Azzam of London-based Chatham House says splits between secularists
and Islamists are nothing new in the Arab world. But they have widened
with the Arab Spring. "The divide has always been there. What we are seeing with the opening
of the political process [is that] that divide becomes more apparent as
you have different political forces vying for power and for influence,"
Azzam says. "I think there is something of a danger in societies where
economic development is so important and a degree of stability is so
important to the initial stages of democracy that there isn't some kind
of consensus over, for example, the writing of the constitution, over
some basic areas of government."
Azzam says the question for 2013 is whether the post-Arab Spring
countries will normalize or remain politically unstable. But whatever
happens, she believes the drive for democracy is irreversible. "Societies in the Arab world that have experienced the Arab Spring have
moved so far towards asserting their demands for a freer society, for
greater accountability, that it is very difficult to see that being
reversed," she says.
Challenges in Saudi Arabia
In Syria, consumed by war, the challenge is different. There, the
question for 2013 is whether the rebel forces can defeat Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad without outside intervention. International
debate will continue to focus on whether and how intervention can occur
when it is opposed by Assad allies Russia and China.
Even in the Gulf region, where the Arab Spring has yet to arrive except in Bahrain, the future looks uncertain. Caroline Bain of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit says the
oil-rich Gulf states have kept the tide of change at bay by ramping up
social spending. But there is no guarantee that this is more than a
stopgap. "Within the Gulf, I think Saudi Arabia is probably the key country which
is facing a challenge in keeping its people happy with the prevailing
regime," Bain says. "And certainly one of the big features of the Arab
Spring was the growth of social media, and even a closed country like
Saudi Arabia is struggling to keep the wave of social media out."
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.