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Tunisia provides a model of legitimacy to counter illegal coup

The counter-revolution in the Arab world is engaged in a critical battle after its victory on the ground in Egypt; it is now seeking to reproduce the same situation in every Arab Spring country. The methods used take into account the distinct circumstances of each country where change has happened or is happening, and in some countries where the Arab Spring might expand, this counter-revolutionary movement takes pre-emptive action.


In Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring, campaigns have multiplied and the so-called “deep state” is busy trying to have the same sort of impact that its counterpart in Egypt has had- although the Egyptian result is not yet complete. Financial backing of the kind that helped the Egyptian coup organisers is also being made available in Tunisia from the same sources.

It is in this context that Tunisia’s “national dialogue” has been taking place. As everyone is aware, this is yet another attempted coup in the making, in which the minority that lost in the election – basically the remnants of the former tyrannical regime forces the majority which won the democratic poll to accept dialogue and conditions in pre-signed documents, explicitly threatening that if that did not take place, there would be a new wave of assassinations and social unrest.

In the same context, the speech by the first elected president in Arab history at the UN, the president of Tunisia, is important. He demanded the release of the second elected Arab president, and the first in Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs; he also called for an end to the Israeli-led and Arab supported siege imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza.

United Nations speech

The perceived danger of the speech by the legitimate Tunisian president (the “interim” president, as he is called by the deep state remnants and media) does not lie in its content or its public call for the support of the just Arab causes that will determine the future of the region, including calling for the release of the kidnapped president in Egypt, but in the nature of the new political discourse established by the Arab Spring.

The official political discourse in the Arab world has been the same since the beginning of the twentieth century, in terms of the language, content, tone, structure and metaphors. It never goes beyond unrealistic speeches in praise of Arab glory, freedom and resistance to put a gloss on the fiercest and most oppressive regimes. From Gamal Abdel Nasser to Bashar Al-Assad’s speeches and including Gaddafi’s revolutionary eccentricities, they have been the same, despite the differences of context and references.

The problem with all these speeches is that they were not rooted in freedom because none of those leaders have or had legitimacy gained from popular votes; they had taken power by force or deceit. The new Tunisian president’s speech was distinguished because it was basically a speech emanating from free will.

How many Arab regimes officially and publically weep over Palestine, but secretly make all kinds of deals with the enemy? Their speech is governed by the emotional demands of the Arabs, as was the case with Nasser, while their expression was restricted by international limits of what can and cannot be said.

The example of free speech coming from Tunisia went beyond the president as an individual and even beyond the presidential institution itself and truly expressed, without the slightest exaggeration, the qualitative shift in the fundamentals of contemporary Arab political discourse.

I say fundamentals because that is what distinguishes the speech from thousands of others is not its message or content. It is distinguished by what it was built upon and what, in effect, made it possible to be spoken: the principle of electoral legitimacy.

Tunisia today is not judged by its political structure, not the size of its population or area, but its significance is to be seen as a qualitative force which was able to awaken the will of the entire Arab nation in a rare historic moment.

The premise on which American political discourse is established, which I am using by way of comparison only, is usually the principle of power and dominance despite the veneer of freedom, human rights, international law and other “cosmetics”, much of which have been exposed as a facade by the Arab Spring and, even before that, the American “freedom parks” in the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib.

Responses of the coup-organisers

The reactions to this historic speech reflected the shockwaves it created. The coup regime in Egypt rushed to reject it on the pretext of Egyptian sovereignty, and denounced any Tunisian intervention in Egypt’s internal affairs. This was highlighted in the media campaign against the Tunisian presidency and calling the Egyptian ambassador for discussion, as if the bloodshed in Egypt, the innocent victims and their burned bodies in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya mean nothing to the Arab people.

The Egyptian position can be understood in the context of the coup leadership’s protection of its coup; it was expected. What is surprising is the position of the most important engineer of the coup and its biggest supporter in the Arab region, the UAE, to where the ousted president’s circle of friends and advisers are gravitating as they plot a coup in Tunisia. The Gulf coup engineers have mobilised intellectuals, writers, activists, novelists, poets, artists and dancers to promote a culture of obedience, warn against sedition and to write new Arab constitutions.

There is no doubt that other Gulf States which condoned the coup and subsequent actions of its leaders have denounced the speech by the Tunisian president because it is a direct threat to their interests and political existence. They also fear political changes that might upset their privileges and wealth accumulated over decades at the expense of national prosperity.

However, many questions remain and the supporters of the dictatorships in the region must answer them or at least consider them. How long can such people suppress people’s awareness? How long can tyranny, authoritarianism and hereditary rule be sustained and supported?

How long will they continue to confiscate Arabs’ will and continue to play the role of colonial representative in the region? Are the Arabs not deserving of freedom and prosperity? Are we less deserving of development, independent and progress than, for example, Malaysia, Turkey, Spain and Indonesia? Which people have made more sacrifices and paid more with their blood over the last couple of centuries than the Arabs?

It is foolish to stand in the way of history following the political awakening of the Arab people using outdated repressive measures which have no place in the 21st century. The fact that such methods are not achieving the same sort of results as they once did indicates their failure and invalidity. The crises in Egypt and Syria are prime examples of the vacuousness of such outdated strategies.

In Egypt the misinformation, deceit and brutal repression against peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators is only increasing their steadfastness in the struggle to overthrow the coup, with the families of recent martyrs leading demonstrations in self-feeding revolutionary movements. The crimes of Syria’s serial killer-president have only given the free Syrian people more determination to overthrow him and the criminal, sectarian gangs that surround him. Resorting to deal with the same social phenomena using the same repressive methods in different times, circumstances and contexts shows that Arab dictators have exhausted all its means of existence and that they are living their final days – at least in the form best known to us.

Tunisia again

Tunisia can provide a political and societal model for the Arab region, through the steadfastness of its revolutionary model in the face of all major setbacks suffered after the Arab Spring. Its establishment of a new political discourse is one of the most important signs of this emerging civilizational model. That is why the UN speech is seen as dangerous; its significance can exceed Egypt’s strategic importance and that of the Egyptian revolution on which all efforts of the new world order supported by internal collaborators and Gulf wealth have focussed.

The logic of the counter-revolution should have entailed beginning with Tunisia, if it wanted to overturn the results of the Arab Spring, respecting the progression of the movements which have shaken the region. However, but its focus on Egypt can be explained by the strategic importance of this pivotal state and its position as a country with many regional dimensions, including its African depth, its proximity to Palestine and Libya and its contact with Saudi Arabia.

This focus might be misplaced. The counter-revolution’s reading of the plan for re-instating dictatorship was superficial and incoherent, rather than functional and precise.

Tunisia, which exported the revolution to the world, has imported from Egypt immunity from coups, through a new awareness of the brutality of the counter-revolution, the blood-thirsty nature of the police state and the ugliness of structures of despotism.

Symbolic Tunisia and qualitative Tunisia formed the movement which had awakened the Egyptian genie and the rest of the Arab world. The Tunisian experience was a lesson of what could be, most importantly the fragility of Arab despotism and police states which can be brought down when the people yearn for freedom and have the will to live.

“When the people have the will to live, destiny must surely respond,” said the great Tunisian poet Aboul-Qasim El-Chebbi before he warned, “Woe betide you for flames are underneath ashes. Who grows thorns reaps wounds.”

As Tunisia provides a model of legitimacy to counter coups, coup leaders and aspirers will reap nothing but wounds sooner or later.

The author is a lecturer at Sorbonne University in Paris. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera Net on 5 November, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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