Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yet again, Tunisia can show Arab nations the way forward

Just as protests in Tunisia led the Arab spring, so its elections can show other Arab nations the way to true democracy

Issandr El Amrani, Sunday 23 October 2011

"Yesterday, millions of Tunisians lined up – some for several hours – to vote in their country's first free election. Some voters came with their children to show them, they said, what democracy looks like. Many were also voting for the first time, having refused to take part in the masquerade that electoral politics was under the oppressive regime of their deposed dictator, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The road to the polling stations has not been easy....

It is nothing short of a miracle to witness a country that only a year ago had one of the most repressive police states in the region now hold its freest elections. It is not just that these elections are technically sound: unlike the much-hailed polls in Iraq in the last decade, they are not taking place against a backdrop of civil war and military occupation, or with the sectarian calculations that have defined Lebanon's elections. These elections are taking place in a democratic spirit; Tunisia's parties are not backed by gangs and militias.....

The Tunisian people now seem doubly liberated: from a nasty regime, but also from their own guilt in not confronting it earlier. Many are embracing political activism for the first time in their lives in a manner that makes the apathy often prevalent in established democracies seem shameful.

There is nervousness about the election's results, of course. It is likely that Al-Nahda, an Islamist movement that leads in the polls, will do well, disturbing the strongly secular tradition of Tunisian politics since 1956. But, significantly, there are signs that Tunisian politics are maturing: today's al-Nahda seems far from the much more conservative and illiberal Islamist movement of the 1980s, and secular parties are grudgingly recognising that their presence on the political scene is legitimate. Indeed, al-Nahda's popularity appears to be as much based on the recognition of its leaders' ordeal – killings, torture and exile – as their religious ideas. In exchange for its political acceptance by secularists, al-Nahda has largely endorsed the relatively liberal social consensus instilled by Bourguiba.....

But just like Tunisia showed the way for the rest of the Arab world in January with its unlikely revolution, it now again offers a symbol of hope. Egypt, whose transition is currently a mess, and Libya, where it is only beginning, should take note."

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