Islamists must cement democracy, novelist says

PARIS Fri Jun 29, 2012 2:43pm EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - Islamist governments which were swept to power in the Arab Spring uprisings must ensure that democracy becomes firmly rooted across the region, novelist Amin Maalouf said on Friday.

"The people who have come to power must now be made responsible," the French-Lebanese writer told Reuters. "We have to firstly tell them that they have the responsibility to preserve democracy and human rights and, secondly, to succeed."

"It's always easy to criticize in opposition, but when you're in power you have to deliver."

Maalouf, who left Beirut in 1975 at the onset of Lebanon's civil war but remains one of the region's most influential writers, said the changes should not be viewed narrowly through the prism of political or religious allegiances.

In an interview at his home, close to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Maalouf said that Islamist governments installed in Egypt and Tunisia after popular uprisings were part of a broader transition to democracy across the Arab world.

Islamist Mohamed Mursi was declared Egypt's first freely elected president on June 25, making the Arab world's most populous nation the latest country in the region to elect a religious-inspired government.

Mursi swore a symbolic oath of office before thousands of supporters on Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square - the epicenter of last year's revolt against ousted leader Hosni Mubarak - telling Egyptians there was no greater authority than the people.

Many across the region and anxious Western allies have urged the new authorities to work fast to repair their economically stricken nations, often bitterly divided after decades of dictatorial police states which had suppressed dissent.

"Governments have understood that you have to respect people's opinions because they are not as subjugated as they seem. They are now capable of saying 'enough is enough' and going onto the streets," Maalouf, an ex-newspaper editor, said.

The 63-year-old, who received France's highest literary prize - the Goncourt - in 1993 for his novel the "Rock of Tanios", and who has written opera librettos, said the Arab Spring could be deemed progress only when there were regular, transparent elections.

"It won't be easy but it's feasible. Even political groups that one can criticize for their vision of society don't have any interest in ruining the democratic transition," he said.

Earlier this month, Maalouf, who describes himself as a news junky with the soul of a journalist, was elected member for life to the Academie Francaise, one of France's highest honors.

"Intellectuals have a major role at this moment of history," Maalouf said. "We need to understand where the world is going and I think that is where our role is indispensable."

Almost two years since the start of the Arab uprisings, Maalouf's next novel, "The Disorientated", due out in September, is inspired by recent events and his departure from Lebanon in the 1970s.

"It is related a little bit to my youth. It takes place in a country that isn't named, but we can guess is Lebanon, and it tells the story of friends who are dealt a bad hand by the turn of events and find themselves dispersed around the world."

(Editing by Daniel Flynn and Michael Roddy)

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