A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Don't Forget Tunisia

As if to remind us where the wave of Arab revolution first began, Tunisia witnessed clashes between police and demonstrators in the past few days, and in Sidi Bouzid, the interior town where the revolution began, a 14 year old was killed. Though the violence in Syria, Yemen and Libya is far more dramatic, and the sheer size and centrality in Egypt guarantee we notice every hiccup there, Tunisia's revolution has been mostly off the radar screens for the world media since the departure of Ben Ali.

The recent violence has drawn some attention: a piece in The National  here; an analysis by POMED on the same subject; and a rather optimistic assessment by The Economist. And a piece on the desperation of rhe impoverished south at Foreign :Policy.

I think several things account for the generally better track record of the Tunisian revolution compared to, say, Egypt, despite the continuing economic unrest in the interior. The fact that it was decided early on to elect a constituent assembly first rather than a Parliament means that  there will be a constitution written by elected representatives, rather than a Parliament elected according to old rules or, in Egypt's case, still unclear rules. When the elections were moved from July to October there were few complaints since it was done by a study commission rather than by decree. The choice of 84-year old Beji Caid Essebsi to lead the tradition raised some eyebrows at the time, but in retrospect a respected elder statesman may have been exactly what was needed. (Mubarak having outlived everyone else, there was no such figure available in Egypt.)

Finally, though Al-Nahda leads most other parties in the polls, it is still much weaker than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and unlikely to win a majority, so the secular/religious divisions, while present, are more muted.

Here's a report on the demonstrations from Al-Jazeera English:

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