Feature

Tunisia: The only bloom of the Arab Spring

After years of “stormy discussions and intellectual tug-of-war,” Tunisia has emerged as a secular democracy.

After years of “stormy discussions and intellectual tug-of-war,” Tunisia has emerged as a secular democracy, said Dorra Megdiche Meziou in www.BusinessNews.com.tn (Tunisia). The new constitution, adopted last week, recognizes Islam as the nation’s religion but keeps the rule of law secular and treats women as fully equal citizens. The National Constituent Assembly saw its share of “clashes, tears, fits of laughter, sleepiness, restlessness, compliments, and insults.” Some members accused others of insufficient piety, while two women nearly came to blows over gender quotas. Yet once the constitution passed, the chamber was filled with “laughter and singing,” as political foes hugged one another. All Tunisians can be proud of the elegant compromise we have wrought.

Elegant? It’s completely “schizophrenic,” said Sarah Mersch in The Daily Star (Lebanon). All those passionate debates over the exact wording of the articles on religion led to numerous rewritings, and the final text is a muddle. How can it “guarantee freedom of conscience” and also “protect the sacred”? How to reconcile free speech with a ban on accusations of apostasy? The text reflects “the antagonisms that shape Tunisian society itself.” But isn’t that the point of democracy? asked Hazim Mubaydin in Al Mada (Iraq). We Iraqis are excited to see that “it is possible to overcome political confusion and chaos” as Tunisia has, and create a framework for competing ideologies to live together without one subjugating the other. Tunisia’s success is an inspiration.

But it may be hard to emulate, said The Irish Times (Ireland) in an editorial. It’s no accident that the Arab Spring uprisings started in Tunisia. Unlike most Arab lands, it has “a well-established tradition of independent civil society, unions,” and professional groups that provide a moderating influence on politics. Its Islamist party, Ennahda, has a genuine commitment to pluralism, unlike Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Its army, almost uniquely in the region, is not politicized and does not control large sectors of industry. And arguably no other Arab country has gone so far in protecting the rights of women, even long before the revolution.

Yet it can still serve as an example, said Larbi Sadiki in AlJazeera.com. The crucial takeaway for other countries is that Tunisians argued their way to a compromise, in “the triumph of bargain politics.” Ennahda saw that when the Muslim Brotherhood overreached in Egypt, it was ousted by the military; Ennahda has been careful not to make that mistake. Tunisians have figured out that winning an election does not make a party a conqueror, but rather an administrator that must govern even the losers with fairness. They are showing other Arabs that it is possible to “transition from an authoritarian modus operandi obsessed with power to a democratic setup able to reconcile differences.” Through its new constitution, Tunisia enshrines for its people “freedom and dignity, the very slogans of Arab youths across the Arab Spring.”

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