Tunisia’s Lessons for the Middle East

Ibrahim Fraihat

In an article published by Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim Sharqieh argues that although Tunisia’s transition has problems, the country is faring better than most of its fellow Arab Spring nations. Sharqieh discusses the Tunisian government’s inclusive, peaceful approach to the country’s transition, notably seen in the Ennahda Party’s joining and maintaining a troika coalition with the Ettakatol Party and Congress for the Republic. Similarly, Sharqieh says Tunisia has taken a middle path in developing a comprehensive and well-reasoned transitional justice law. Further, in parallel with efforts to grapple with the old regime’s legacy, Tunisia has put forward national dialogues that aim to forge agreement on key challenges facing the country.

Sharqieh notes there are several cultural and religious factors that have worked in Tunisia’s favor throughout the country’s transition, including that Tunisia lacks the ethnic, tribal, or sectarian-religious delineations that have been divisive in other transitioning countries. Sharqieh also says there are structural variables that contribute to the relative success of Tunisia’s transition. First, the Ennahda Party’s outlook is modernized in contrast to that of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, in part because of the top figures’ spending the Ben Ali years in exile. Second, Tunisia has a professional, noninterventionist army. Third, Tunisia had an intact Constituent Assembly for most of its transition. Finally, civil society has played a key role in national dialogue and mediation.

Sharqieh reiterates that despite Tunisia’s relative success compared to other transitioning countries in the region, it faces continued challenges, including popular protest and a failing economy. Sharqieh also cites the committees for the Protection of the Revolution (CPRs) as challenges to state authority, as well as the vast and growing divide between Tunisia’s secular liberals and its ultraconservative Salafi Islamists.

Sharqieh concludes that although Tunisians seem to have little confidence in their transition, they really are a model for the Arab world’s transitioning states. He says the approach of a steady, inclusive, and rule-based state-building is allowing for broad reconciliation and a real evolution in Tunisian society.

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