Monday February 25, 2013
The Little Engine That Could
Often labeled the “catalyst for the Arab Spring,” Tunisia has set an encouraging example of progress towards democracy and pluralism. After its nonviolent Jasmine Revolution in 2011, ousting then-President Ben Ali, free elections established a coalition government. The combination of “moderate-led Islamist party, Ennahda, and smaller, secular coalition partners” resolved to cooperate and find pragmatic agreements to the country’s ongoing socio-economic and political problems (Al Jazeera).
Yet, February of 2013 has jolted the country with a new wave of protests.
1. Feb. 6th—Politician Chokri Belaid assassinated
The secular opposition leader, Belaid, was a vocal critic of Ben Ali prior to the 2011 Revolution and of the current Islamist-led Tunisian government. His assassination outside his Tunis home prompted mass protests across the region and capital.
2. Feb. 19th—Prime Minister Hemad Jebali resigns
A moderate of the Ennahda Party, Jebali responded to the national crises following Chokri’s assassination by proposing a change in the coalition government to restore order. His plan involved appointing a cabinet of technocrats, nonpolitical members, until the upcoming elections in July of 2013. He resigned his post after his own party rejected his plan.
3. Feb. 22nd—Ali Laarayedh named PM-designate
The former Interior Minister and Ennahda Party member, Laarayedh was nominated by Tunisia’s constituent assembly. Laarayedh was imprisoned for more than a decade under the Ali regime and is considered one of Ennhada’s least conservative members. He will have two weeks to form a cabinet before seeking final approval from the constituent assembly and President Moncef Marzouki; another wave of protests were sparked in the nation’s capital, Tunis, after news of his appointment.
Mr. Laarayedh remains a controversial choice because secular oppositionists accuse the governing party, Ennahda, and the Interior Ministry, for which he was in charge, of failing to prevent the killing of Belaid. Their failure to crack down on hard-line Islamists groups allowed such horrific violence to occur (Al Jazeera). However, Laarayedh represents a much larger, ongoing debate within the small North African country—the role of religion in the state. The general ideological disagreement is centered between Islamists and secularists, each with its own brand of radicals. Pockets of extremism include Salafists, who argue that Demoracy is not compatible with Islam and want Sharia law to rule the land; other secular groups want religious parties to be explicitly banned, fearing any definition of an Islamic state. This persistent clash involves not only the elected legislature, but also specific language in the Constitution, which will come to “define the very nature of the democratic state” (NY Times).
Conclusion—Hope for Tunisia
While the nation continues to be plagued by economic insecurity and religious-political debates, there is great hope for Tunisia. After its 2011 Revolution, many scholars fervently predicted that the Arab country would have one of the fastest, most peaceful paths in its transition towards democracy. In fact, Noueihed and Warren in their 2011 book The Battle for the Arab Spring, argue just that—because of its educated populous, active civil society, good healthcare system, and long history of democratic institutions and progressive reforms that Tunisia has a high probability of success. These factors remain very pertinent today. However, they also contend that the country’s humble size is the most important factor working in its favor.
Essentially, Tunisia’s small population combined with its lack of major natural resources and geopolitical significance has served to exclude external actors. Because the problems disturbing Tunisia remain solely organic, they have a much greater chance of overcoming ongoing crises. Whether Laarayedh succeeds in forming a functioning cabinet will have little influence on Tunisia’s long-term transition to peace and prosperity. In order to do so, all Tunisian parties must recommit themselves to the ideals of “nonviolence, mutual tolerance and upholding the rule of law” (NY Times). They must continue to reject religious and political extremity in the wake of harmony.
6. Nouiehad & Warren—The Battle for the Arab Spring—“The Jasmine Revolution