Will Tunisia Follow in Egypt’s Footsteps?

Article Summary
Although there are some differences in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the ruling Islamists in Tunisia have ignored the will of the people, prompting some to ask if the country will witness a repeat of the Egyptian experience.

[NOTE: This article was translated before Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was ousted on July 3.]

Since January 2011, Tunisia and Egypt have shown points of similarity and points of divergence. Both countries experienced a successful revolution in January 2011. On Jan. 14 and Feb. 11, respectively, the two former presidents were forced to leave office to the sound of cries of "Leave" and "Irhil." Consequently, Islamists managed to seize power following free and democratic elections.

The course of events, however, did not follow the same trajectory in these two countries. In Tunisia, a civilian government took control during the transitional period and held elections for a second transient and constitutive step. In Egypt, the army took control during the interim period until the legislative and presidential elections were held.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, elected for four years, is about to be ejected by the will of the people after only a year in power. In Tunisia, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which was elected for a maximum of one year, as per Decree No. 6, is still in place by its own will, not that of the people.

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In Egypt, the “Brothers” are ruling alone without any alliance with other parties. In Tunisia, Ennahda managed to establish an alliance with two parties that are secular and democratic in theory, in order to use them as a cover for the Islamist party’s blatant hegemony over the business of both the ANC and the country.

In Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi quickly revealed his dictatorial ambitions of wanting to rule by decree, after the dissolution of parliament due to an irregularity. In Tunisia, and with a cardboard president, Ennahda governs through the head of government who has unlimited prerogatives and the ANC, which imposes the diktat of the troika by voting.

In Egypt, the opposition, despite its disparate trends and ideologies, has managed to appear in compact and united ranks and encourage 17 million demonstrators (14 million according to the most conservative estimates) to take to the streets on the historic day of June 30, 2013, after collecting 22 million signatures [calling for a withdrawal of confidence in President Morsi]. We must keep in mind that these figures far exceed the number of votes obtained by Morsi during the elections, i.e., 13 million votes.

In Tunisia, the opposition, which shares a secular and modernist democratic spirit and refuses any project of Islamization of the state, remains mired in its eternal alter egos. Add to this the appetites of ministerial seats that the Ennahda party lures them with from time to time. This situation is likely to continue, unless the attempts to form a common front between the Popular Front and the Union for Tunisia succeed.

In Egypt, the opposition understood that the Brotherhood will never step down without pressure from the street, so it went all the way. In Tunisia, the opposition still believes in consensus, but it gets seriously disappointed every time. The opposition has always given the Islamist party and its opportunistic allies the benefit of the doubt. Yet, it seems to watch helplessly as completely anti-democratic laws are passed, knowing that they are falsely attributed to the immunization of the revolution and the constitution, which the opposition considers “counterfeit.”

Indeed, according to several MPs, in addition to the multiple amendments, a whole chapter entitled “transitional provisions” was drafted by the only Ennahda partisan, Habib Khedher, knowing that this chapter is a mini-constitution that can shape the next political step to suit the wishes of the ruling Ennahda party.

In Egypt, the military institution has its own traditions and role in politics. In the past it supported the rulers, but since the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, it has sided with the people. The military recently reiterated its public support by giving a 48-hour ultimatum to President Morsi.

In Tunisia, on the other hand, the army had a neutral role. If we go back in time, we notice that the military fired on the people in January 1978, during the crisis with Habib Achour’s Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), and in January 1984, during the bread riots. However, during the January 2011 revolution it stood with the people, thus giving high regard and prestige to its former chief, Gen. Rachid Ammar.

This is why Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi was told, “The army’s position is not guaranteed, because it is well known that the army stands with the people, if any party as much as thinks of imposing a new dictatorship.”

What about the international powers? US President Barack Obama’s take on Egypt was clear. He stated that the legitimacy of the ballot boxes is not enough for the ruling power if it is not followed by a policy that meets the aspirations and expectations of the people who elected it.

In this regard, Obama said, “Democracy is about more than elections. It is also about ensuring that the voices of all Egyptians are heard and represented by their government.”

In Tunisia, although Americans no longer have senior officials since the attack on their embassy, ​​the visit of the French president in these delicate times can be considered a show of support for the existing troika.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood’s members were arrogant enough to believe that they were the masters of Egypt due to the polls that took place under very specific conditions. In Tunisia, the Islamists of Ennahda resorted to pernicious methods to impose their diktat. Besides the argument of the polls, they have always set the bar too high before accepting some amendments that they call concessions, and have imagined that they are the consensus champions.

In Tunisia, some MPs were elected by only a few thousand votes. Still, they dare cry out loud that they represent the will of the people and that they can do whatever they wish in the name of this alleged will.

However, following this reasoning, the people granted them a new term for a certain timeframe. Instead, they remained in power indefinitely, while spending their time bickering and legislating and concocting laws that were described by all experts and human rights activists as absurd.

Another fact proving the arrogance of Islamists is the stand taken by the Ennahda party in support of President Morsi, who was abandoned by everybody, including his own ministers and advisers, not to mention the 17 million Egyptians who took to the streets.

In Tunisia, the opposition missed the boat twice and failed to make people's voices heard. The first time was on Oct. 23, 2012, when the one-year mandate given to the ANC ended. The opposition took the promises made at the time at face value and opted for restraint, after Mohamed Abbou threatened to send those who dare take to the streets to the gallows.

Abbou’s reasoning dictates that 17 million Egyptians should be led to the gallows because they dared to defy the “legitimacy” of Morsi.

The second time was in the wake of the assassination of Chokri Belaid, when nearly one million and a half Tunisians took to the streets to attend the funeral of the martyr. This reflected complete repudiation of those in power — an incident that Gen. Ammar described as the death certificate of the troika.

Faced with this clear diktat and this obstinacy to impose anti-democratic and discriminatory laws and a constitution contrary to the expectations of the Tunisian people, will the opposition have the courage to firmly go against the status quo, at the risk of repeating the Egyptian scenario in a way that prioritizes the will of the people?

In any case, observers are convinced that the success of the Egyptian people in bringing down the Brotherhood will, inevitably, have an impact on the situation and future of Ennahda in Tunisia.

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