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Envying the Tunisian people

March 29, 2014 at 12:39 pm

The Tunisians have succeeded where the Egyptians failed; they’ve agreed on a new post-revolution constitution and given a vote of confidence to a government of independents. Egypt’s third anniversary of the revolution, in contrast, saw 90 people killed, almost 300 wounded and 1,341 arrested.

While the Tunisian constitution was approved on January 26, we in Egypt have spent the past three years since the 2011 revolution immersed in conflict and question marks. In Tunisia, they at least know where they are going; we don’t.

In Egypt we have been provided with a constitution the political references of which are highly questionable as it was drafted by a group chosen by the military-appointed interim government and not elected by the people. We are heading to presidential elections in an atmosphere clouded by fear; the guarantee of public freedom is in doubt amid growing signs of the security establishment’s dominance and the militarisation of society. In addition, there are many questions about the future vision of a divided society suffering from a political vacuum hoping for a “Messiah” to solve its problems.

I should point out that political decisions in post-revolutionary Tunisia are the products and creation of Tunisian civil society as its political parties, unions and elected institutions represent the people. In Egypt, political decision-making remains in the hands of the military and security services. As political polarisation is the current reality in Egypt, relative harmony and unity seems to be the preferred choice for the Tunisian elite, at least in that they succeeded in agreeing on a basic minimum which enabled them to approve the constitution and a prime minister, and to give the confidence of the Constitutional Assembly to the new cabinet.

I don’t claim that the Tunisian elite agreed on everything, and I do not say that the differences between the parties and civic institutions have disappeared. Nor do I say that the future path for Tunisia looks rosy, because the opposite is true in all of the above. However, the genius of Tunisia has emerged first with the elite’s ability to manage their differences by deciding to invoke a dialogue when dealing with controversial issues. Secondly, the Tunisian people agreed that the most important thing is for Tunisia to win by advancing the democratic process and that it did not matter which political forces lost or gained power along the way.

This last phrase is cited from a statement made by Shaikh Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda Party that has a parliamentary majority, in which he said that the concessions made by the party should not be considered as a defeat. As long as Tunisia remains the winner, then the movement is going in the right direction. If the party loses its majority (after the government steps down), it will always be able to regain power at a later date; however, if Tunisia’s security and stability are jeopardised, this is something that could never be compensated.

The achievements that have been made thus far were not attained easily because they were preceded by accusations and denunciations of the constituent assembly and demonstrations on the streets. Any attempt to give birth to something new is difficult and painful and the most important thing is that the labour process is over and the attempts to abort the revolution failed. The main reason for this is that the Tunisian people talked to one another and sat at the negotiating table, carving out an agreement over the past five months. The discussions that occurred between Tunisia’s various parties began with accusing the majority, represented by Ennahda, with plans to implement an Islamic constitution. This is what encouraged many of Tunisia’s modernist thinkers and leftist leaders to attack the party; however, its concessions coupled with dialogue allowed the Tunisians to overcome the difficulties and provide the Arab world with its first progressive constitution in modern history. That is what the leaders of the secular faction and the communist and non-communist left have said.

To be clear, this achievement led to the development of other factors such as the maturity and wisdom of Tunisian politics. For example, it is no longer a secret that European pressure and Algerian mediation played a large role in convincing Tunisian parties of the importance of making concessions. In this regard, one cannot deny that what occurred in Egypt was an attempt by both sides to abort the revolution and its principles, with each party choosing to go its own way.

Many in Egypt were inspired by the idea of a “salvation front”, which gave shape to the Tamarod movement. There have been rumours that Egyptians and Tunisians involved in Tamarod have been exchanging political experiences and that the Egyptian branch of the movement hosted its Tunisian counterparts for one week in one of Egypt’s beachfront hotels, an initiative funded by various Gulf countries. In the time it took attempts to abort the revolution to fail, the publicly-active political elite in Egypt realised that the revolution was in danger and that widening rifts among the members of society opened the door for a counter-revolution, which overthrew the January 25th revolution.

Since then, the wheels of history have been turning backwards and this is what has placed political pressure on Tunisia and led its people to believe that if they did not achieve a consensus, all of their revolutionary efforts would come to nothing. One could argue that all the hardship and pain that was suffered in Egypt contributed to finding a solution in Tunisia and that the disadvantages of the Egyptian people worked towards somebody else’s benefit.

The people of Tunisia are to be congratulated and, I must admit, envied. Theirs has been a great achievement.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Shorouk newspaper on 2 February, 2014

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