Saturday, 15 December 2012

Tunisia a Better Model for Arab Spring - Alan Philps, The National

A casual observer of the Arab world will most likely have concluded that the experiment in adapting political Islam to democracy has already failed. Almost two years ago, as the Arab revolutions began in Tunisia, it seemed a foregone conclusion that political pluralism on a western model would take the place of the ageing autocrats who had been kept in power for decades by their security services.
But two years is a long time in revolutionary politics. Egyptians will begin voting tomorrow on their new constitution, against a background of bloody protests against the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who is accused of trampling over the liberal and secular opposition to create an Islamic state.
While demands for a boycott of the vote appear to be weakening, the constitutional process will be tainted in the eyes of many Egyptians and observers abroad. The new constitution was drawn up by a Constituent Assembly controlled by Islamists after liberals and representatives of the Coptic Christian minority walked out.
Mr Morsi makes no apology for his rush to put the draft to a vote. In his view, the supreme constitutional court, a power centre filled with appointees from the old regime, was on the point of dissolving the assembly. This would have amounted to sabotage of the transition to democracy under the guidance of the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned forces which won two elections.
While there is some truth in Mr Morsi's suspicions about the judges, he has failed to understand the basic tenet of democracy: the tyranny of the majority is hardly better than any other type of tyranny. The majority has to show some respect for minority views, and not use the institutions of democracy to engineer a revolution.
Looking at the wider Arab world, parliamentary democracy in Iraq has created an ineffectual government, based largely on sectarian parties, and scarred by some of the more rapacious corruption in the world. This was not the aim of the Americans when, 10 years ago, they decided that post-Saddam Baghdad would be the centre from which liberal democracy would fan out across the region.
But does it all have to end in disaster? Recently I have had the chance to speak to the two leading figures in Tunisia's transition from dictatorship to democracy, Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) movement, and Moncef Marzouki, the interim president, who is a veteran opposition figure and human rights activist.
The Tunisian transition is hardly going smoothly: it should have concluded in October, with a new constitution and the holding of new elections, but the process is being delayed by differences between the Islamists and the secular parties in the government coalition. It looks like elections will not be held for another year. Meanwhile, the clamour is growing for authorities to create jobs for the poor who have seen nothing from the revolution and have lost their fear of the police.

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