Islamist premier Ali Larayedh of Tunisia was replaced by non-partisan transitional leader Mehdi Jomaa on Friday, January 10, 2014. For those who feared the Arab Spring revolutions and an end to authoritarianism in the Middle East would mean Western interests would be imperiled, because stable democratic regimes were seen as unachievable, this latest development demonstrates moderation and progress are possible over time.
In order to serve the broad interests of a People, such as the Tunisians, and participate in the International Community, national leader must be willing and able to go beyond their own interests and views to serve the needs and will of all citizens. Sometimes, this means finding solutions that take into account minority views; sometimes, it means stepping aside.
In a region where government will likely need to favor cultural identify over individual identity, i.e. illiberal versus liberal rule, what democracy will look like in the Middle East is still questionable. The true measure of an emerging government’s potential for success rests in its ability to provide a strong, all-inclusive constitution and its ability to be responsive to the needs of its People.
While a constitutional government where evenly applied, responsive laws and guaranteed rights form the basis of governance is required for a nation to be successful, democracies do not necessary have to be built around a “pluralist cultural identity,” e.g. religious, amoral, etc. For any government to garner the support of its People and achieve legitimacy, it must adequately address the interests of its People, which is why participation in elections and political matters is so important.
In accordance, the strength of democracy, whether liberal or illiberal, hinges on how responsive it is to its People. An ill-democratic government, i.e. one that is democratic in appearance only, fails when it is no longer responsive to the needs of its People. This is what happened in Egypt when Islamists tried to impose their hardliner Islamist stances onto their entire culture; whereas, the Islamist premier of Tunisia put the interests of his country above his ambitions to build an Islamist leaning state.
Because the removal of Ali Larayedh occurred without uncontrolled, mass violence or a military coup, unlike in Egypt, it demonstrates outcome is decided by those who are in power and those who choose to act. It is important to remember in the face of growing instability and uncertainty, the democratization of a People, a Country, and a culture is a long messy process. The Middle East is filled with nations undergoing this process while what democracies emerge will depend upon what the unique cultures demand.
Tunisia may eventually serve as an example of a successful democratic transition. At the moment, it serves as a small sign of hope that the process is still progressing and can progress without embracing a massive breakout violence that culminates into a civil war. Above all, this example shows the Middle East is not simply headed for disaster.
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