The Failure of Democracy in the Arab Context: The Tunisian Case

Marco Di Donato

The scope of the speech is to basically focus my attention on the “under-studied history of contention” in the MENA region, in line with a recent article which I published entitled “Analysing Revolution-like Processes in North Africa: A Historical Perspective of the

1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s” for Afriche e Orienti. The recent Arab Spring (which started in 2010 and is still going on in a transition form) has been considered the beginning of a complete changing process for some Arab countries and in particular North African countries. In the last years a bulimic production of books and articles have investigated the Arab Spring by mainly focusing on events from the 2011 onwards missing a broader historical approach. I’ll focus on three main case studies (Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq) by “bouleversing” the perspective and try to challenge the historical stereotyped image of “somnolent Arabs”.

 

 

Mohmmed Hashas

The Islamic State, democracy, and the post-Islamist society: Insights from Tunisia

Has the Arab Spring of 2011 impacted Islamic political thought that in the 20th century, and has been in gradual emergence in the public and political sphere since the late 1960s? How far have the concepts of the state, religion, sharia, and society metamorphosed since the Arab Spring? Has involvement in direct politics changed Islamic political thought at the level of concepts as well or only at the level of practice? These are some of the questions I try to raise in the light of contemporary Islamic thought, with reference to the Tunisian case. The reading advanced here is that Rached Ghannouchi, the main Islamic political theorist of the Islamic movement in Tunisia have turned his “idealist” view of the Islamic state as first written about in 1993 into a “realist-idealist view” (3rd ed. 2008) by making freedom the value of all values in a democratic state, besides social justice. His later written and articulated statements during the democratic phase in which his movement/party co-governed the country post-Arab Spring may be read as an Islamic political theory meant for a “post-Islamist society.”

 

Sharan Grewal

Panel Presentation

Why did Tunisia’s democracy collapse in 2021? I argue that the same factor that initially facilitated the transition – elite consensus – later created the conditions for its breakdown. Between 2015-2019, the major political parties decided to govern together in a grand coalition, cognizant of the threat polarization posed to the transition. While lauded internationally, and consistent with the academic literature’s recommendation for consensus, the grand coalition inadvertently laid the groundwork for Saied’s takeover in two ways. First, by making it difficult to distinguish the parties, the coalition contributed to the rise of populism, as frustrated Tunisians began to blame the political class in one broad brush. Second, by moving to the center, the grand coalition created space for more hardline parties on either end, deepening rather than resolving the secular-Islamist polarization. Although designed to save the transition, the consensus government instead helped produce both the populism and the polarization that fueled support for Kais Saied’s takeover in 2021.

 

Roundtable

The United States’ response to Tunisia’s democratic breakdown was passive and cautious. For almost a year, the US was hesitant to suspend aid or overtly criticize Saied, fearful that Saied might whip up anti-American sentiment, jeopardize US strategic interests in Tunisia, or even turn towards Russia or China. When the US in summer 2022 finally did suspend aid and publicly criticized the takeover, Saied indeed reacted by painting this as foreign interference in Tunisia’s affairs. The US in turn backed down and returned to muting any public criticism, a strategy it has now doubled down upon in the wake of October 7. Still, US policymakers remain hopeful that private engagement might shape Saied’s behavior, as shown by Saied’s about-face on the bill criminalizing normalization with Israel. Overall, the US’s tepid reaction to Saied’s takeover is instructive moving forward for how the US might respond to democratic breakdowns in an era of great power competition.

 

 

Mohmmed Hashas

The Islamic State, democracy, and the post-Islamist society: Insights from Tunisia

Has the Arab Spring of 2011 impacted Islamic political thought that in the 20th century, and has been in gradual emergence in the public and political sphere since the late 1960s? How far have the concepts of the state, religion, sharia, and society metamorphosed since the Arab Spring? Has involvement in direct politics changed Islamic political thought at the level of concepts as well or only at the level of practice? These are some of the questions I try to raise in the light of contemporary Islamic thought, with reference to the Tunisian case. The reading advanced here is that Rached Ghannouchi, the main Islamic political theorist of the Islamic movement in Tunisia have turned his “idealist” view of the Islamic state as first written about in 1993 into a “realist-idealist view” (3rd ed. 2008) by making freedom the value of all values in a democratic state, besides social justice. His later written and articulated statements during the democratic phase in which his movement/party co-governed the country post-Arab Spring may be read as an Islamic political theory meant for a “post-Islamist society.”

 

 

Radwan A. Masmoudi

Tunisia’s Failed Democratic Transition:  What went wrong?

For nearly 10 years, from January 2011 until July 2021, Tunisia was regarded by the whole world as the role model for democratic transitions in the Arab World.  During that time, it succeeded in adopting one of the most liberal, democratic, and progressive constitutions not only in the Arab/Muslim world, but probably in the whole world.  It also succeeded in holding six free and fair elections, three parliamentary, two presidential, and one local and municipal elections.  It had one of the freest media in the whole world, and one of the most active and independent civil society as well.  True, the economy did not grow much during that decade, but Tunisians from all walks of life felt genuinely free to express themselves, speak their mind, and criticize their governments without fear of persecution or retaliation.  This reality (for many of us it was more like a dream) came crushing on July 25, 2021, when the freely elected president Kais Saied ordered the army to shut down the parliament and the government, and decided to rule by decree for a year and half, during which he singlehandedly wrote a new constitution and took control of the legislative branch and the judicial system.  Today, two years later, most of his opponents and political leaders are languishing in jail without any clear or specific charges, except the vague accusation of “conspiring against the state”.  So, what happened and what went wrong?  A number of mistakes, by domestic and international players, were committed during those 10 years, which ultimately resulted in the breakdown of democracy, and the rise of a new populist demagogue order.  I will try to summarize them in this presentation.

SUPPORT OUR WORK

 

Please consider giving a tax-free donation to Reset this year

Any amount will help show your support for our activities

In Europe and elsewhere
(Reset DOC)


In the US
(Reset Dialogues)


x