Saturday, November 22, 2014

In birthplace of Arab Spring, Tunisia’s Islamists get sobering lesson in governing

    Saturday, November 22, 2014   No comments

TUNIS — On a recent warm evening, hundreds of men and women were mingling outside the offices of Tunisia’s Islamist party. They were singing and cheering. They were waving little red-and-white Tunisian flags. It looked as if they had just won an election.

In fact, they had just lost control of parliament. But in a strife-torn Arab world, this young democracy had pulled off a rare feat: a clean, peaceful election.

“What are we celebrating today?” the Islamists’ leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, a 73-year-old scholar, cried into a microphone as fireworks popped overhead. “We are celebrating freedom! We are celebrating Tunisia! We are celebrating democracy!”

Nearly three years after the Arab Spring, the hopes unleashed by the mass uprisings have largely given way to despair. Egypt suffered a coup; Libya is lurching toward civil war; Syria has experienced a bloodbath. Tunisia is the only country to overthrow a dictator and build a democracy. On Sunday, Tunisians will cast ballots in the second round of national elections, choosing a president after the Oct. 26 parliamentary vote.

Still, the Islamists’ defeat in the first round reflects the clear discontent with what democracy has yielded. Ghannouchi was symbolic of Islamists in the region who surged to power after the uprisings and hoped to transform countries ruled by secular autocrats. But Tunisia’s government has struggled to contain terrorism, revive the economy and win over a deeply secular society.



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