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A FINE REVOLUTIONARY WEEK IT HAS BEEN

The Daily Star - April 16, 2012

by Rami G. Khouri

Tunisia and Egypt are where the current wave of Arab uprisings and citizen revolts started nearly a year and a half ago, and it is to those two countries that we will continue to turn for signs of where our region may be heading. This is why – I kick mud and sand in your face, you pessimists of the spirit who have no faith in the fundamental decency and moderation of 350 million Arabs – I am more confident in the validity of the slow and steady political transformations across our region that will avoid extremist outcomes.

Developments in Tunisia and Egypt last week reflect important aspects of a new political culture being born. This sees various ideological forces battling it out for public support, within overarching contexts of law and counter-balancing institutions that prevent any extreme to prevail.

In Tunisia, three leftist and secular political parties agreed to create a single new democratic centrist party to be called the Social Democratic Path, and other parties will soon join them. They aim to consolidate their splintered followers into a strong single movement that can better challenge or check the Islamist Al-Nahda Party that is the leader of the present coalition government. This will provide a more accurate picture of the real balance of power in Tunisia among right, left and center, and among religious or secular movements. Islamists in power will continue to face more vigorous and efficacious checks from others who learn to operate politically.

Simultaneously, demonstrators defied a government ban on marching along the iconic Bourghuiba Boulevard. This led to a crackdown by police against the demonstrators and subsequent opposition accusations that Al-Nahda, which heads the ruling coalition, sent militias to attack civilians. Al-Nahda leader Rashid Ghannouchi acknowledged that obstacles were emerging in the country’s transition to democracy, while an official of the Al-Tajdid Movement, formerly the Communist Party, said that the balance of power must change and allow the emergence of a moderate party to counter the influence of Islamists.

What a thrill it is to watch a pluralistic, democratic political system being born. I bow again to Tunisia and Tunisians in respect and gratitude for showing the way.

In Egypt, meanwhile, a leading national court suspended the country’s appointed 100-member assembly that is supposed to draft a new Constitution, because one-third of its members resigned in protest over the over-representation of Islamists in the group. The electorally dominant Islamists, the incumbent military, fledgling secular parties and assorted small civil society groups will now re-engage one another to agree on how to write a Constitution that represents the sentiments and rights of all Egyptians.

This mirrors the Tunisian case of secular, leftist and centrist groups pushing back against Islamist dominance of the political transition process. It is even more significant for asserting the role and authority of an independent judicial sector that can check Parliament and the executive, which is vital for any credible democracy. More important is the untested ability of judges to check the powers of the military and the security services – the institutions that have disastrously ruled Egypt and most of the Arab world for two generations.

In the last six months, it appeared to many that the military rulers of the Arab world would seamlessly be replaced by Islamists who enjoyed the electoral legitimacy the generals and colonels had lacked. We now see that in just a few months various sectors of Arab society are regrouping and challenging the power of both the Islamists and the military. The latest example in Egypt last week saw the Parliament pass a law that bans senior officials who had served under former President Hosni Mubarak from running for president. It aims mainly to stop the I-spit-in-your-emerging-democratic-face candidacy of Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s former vice-president and chief of intelligence. The law has to be approved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military council that holds ultimate authority in Egypt until a new civilian government system is in place.

So in Tunisia and Egypt we have street demonstrators and courts challenging Islamist-led coalitions, parliaments challenging former autocrats and their military colleagues who retain power, leftist and secular parties challenging Islamist-centrist coalitions, and other political contestations that define the beautiful birth of Arab politics.

There is much more to come, which will clip the wings of Islamists and generals, but also of populist radicals and street dreamers alike. And if some post-modern intellectual carpetbaggers from Washington and London join the fray and try to shape the new Arab systems in their own image, or for the benefit of the strategic interests of their corporations or their partners in Israel and Micronesia, they, too, will experience the pushback and the negotiated centrist deal that is the ultimate gift of democratic pluralism.

This has been a pretty good week in Tunisia and Egypt, where the real democratic revolutions are just starting.





Altri articoli su:
[ Africa ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ] [ Egitto ] [ Islam e democrazia ] [ Medio Oriente ] [ Tunisia ]

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