Comparing the Tunisian, Egyptian revolutions

Article Summary
Although the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions started in a similar manner, the latter has been far more successful, and perhaps can be attributed to the climate of pluralism and democracy that characterized Tunisian society even before former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's departure.

Observers are keen to compare the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences in the context of the Arab Spring revolutions. They wonder about the secret behind the "success" of the first and the failure of the second, even though it is still too early to assert that the transition experience brought about by the revolution in Tunisia is a success. 

If we try to compare the commonalities between the experiences of the two countries, both just before and after the revolution, we see that they are following simultaneous historical paths. The two revolutions were produced by common factors, and both Tunisians and Egyptians protested peacefully, perhaps chanting the very same slogans. And they both led to the same results, in a short historical precedent. Tunisia forced former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country, while Egypt ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, referred him to trial and imprisoned him. 

By extension, the two countries were shaken by seismic events after the revolutions. In Tunisian, two illustrious politicians — Chokri Belaid and later Mohamed Brahimi — paid the price for these events, assassinated in broad daylight because of their political views against the transitional authority. Furthermore, innocent victims fell and tension reached its peak. In Egypt, the transitional authorities were subjected to pressure and security breaches after Mubarak's fall, and much blood was shed in the streets. 

However, the Tunisian experience has brought the nation — it seems — to the shores of safety, especially after the "smoothness" that finally accompanied the resignation of the government of Ali Laarayedh and the arrival of Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa. Many are relying on the latter to achieve what they call the "dismantling of the Muslim Brotherhood" in the structures of government administration, and they accuse Hamadi Jebali's government of supporting the group. 

Also read

There was a radicalization of protests that accompanied the rise of the Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Ennahda movement. Many accused the latter of appointing more than 7,000 of its members to state institutions following its arrival to power after the Oct. 23, 2011, elections. However, despite this radicalization, it did not push things toward bloodly clashes like those that have plagued the Egyptian experience. In Egypt, the army turned against elected President Mohammed Morsi and ousted him and threw him in prison. They then concocted charges against him and [Freedom and Justice] Party leaders. The new government declared that the Brotherhood was a terrorist organization, and demonized anyone who objected to the authority of the army. This transformed all of Egypt into a military barracks and a site of conflict. The voice of the "other" was suppressed, and pluralism was confiscated. The disastrous slogan returned: "No voice is louder than the voice of battle." 

Upon reflecting on the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences, we see that the first was accompanied by a popular wrath whose motives became apparent in the political moment in which [the revolution] broke out. Meanwhile, the Egyptian experience revealed that the popular wrath has deep roots that made many believe the coup against the elected authority never occurred. This was the result of errors made by the Brotherhood, their follies in managing the state, their miserable failure and their political inexperience. There were reasons for popular anger buried deep within the Egyptian consciousness that was ready to get rid of the Brotherhood, to the point that many Egyptians would not even bat an eye if the Brotherhood were burned in gas furnaces!

In this context, the Egyptian experience faltered while the Tunisian one crossed the rough sea. This indicates the importance of the cultural context of the two countries. One could even venture to bring up the terms of the "Tunisian mind" and the "Egyptian mind." These designations intersect with the epistemological contexts of differentiation proposed by Mohammed Abed al-Jabri when he spoke of the "Levantine mind" and the "Maghreb mind," and drew distinctions between mindsets based on facts, arguments and mysticism. Here, the idea is that the mindsets of Egypt or Tunisia are linked to the cultural, psychological, social and historical components that contribute to formation of a collective consciousness of a group of people in a specific geographic area that has witnessed various civilizations over the span of thousands of years. 

In his book The Character of Egypt, Egyptian academic Gamal Hamdan speaks about Pharaonic — i.e., feudal — tyranny. He claims that tyranny and oppressive despotism is a reality in Egypt. Hamdan notes that while all aspects of life — both material and nonmaterial — have changed in modern Egypt to varying degrees, "the totalitarian system of governance in particular, and 'political Pharaonism,' still lives in our midst, with all its weight and insolence. However, this system is disguised in a falsified formula known as 'eastern democracy,' or rather 'democratic-dictatorship.'" Hamdan believes that "modern Egypt will not change radically and will not develop into a modern state with a free people, until this 'political Pharaonism' is buried with the other remnants of the Pharaonic civilizations that are long gone."

In contrast, we find that the "Tunisian mind" tested different leaders who transformed the country into a climate of pluralism, democracy and rotation of power resembling that in Western societies. This has contributed to producing a state of social and political harmony, where secularists and liberals were pleased with the Islamists and did not exclude them. Furthermore, the Islamists allowed this "troika" to rule, and one should praise the Tunisian model of a peaceful transition from a revolution to a [democratic] state. 

Perhaps this model could be an incentive for others to follow suit. Instead of repeatedly talking about the Turkish model of governance, we have an Arab model in our hands that we hope will not be struck down by future events. 

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:

  • The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
  • Archived articles
  • Exclusive events
  • The Week in Review
  • Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly
Found in: zine el abidine ben ali, tunisia, revolution, mohammed morsi, hosni mubarak, egypt, arab spring
Next for you
Sign up for our Newsletter

The website uses cookies and similar technologies to track browsing behavior for adapting the website to the user, for delivering our services, for market research, and for advertising. Detailed information, including the right to withdraw consent, can be found in our Privacy Policy. To view our Privacy Policy in full, click here. By using our site, you agree to these terms.