Eight Remarks about «Tunisia’s Big Move»
Mohammed Hashas 31 January 2011

Mohammed Hashas, PhD Studies, LUISS Univ., Rome

I have been asked to react to the Tunisian recent events by a Danish friend, who is working as a journalist. Few other friends from Italy, Iran and India have read a longer version of this article, which I try to summarize here. Tunisia is being watched worldwide, it seems. I am not Tunisian by birth. I am Moroccan. I belong to the Arab and Islamic world that extends its borders from Morocco to Indonesia. However, since I am more familiar with the Arab world, where one language is shared, besides religion and history, I do care about what happens in the region. I was not born in the colonial era, nor in the immediate post-colonial one. After about six decades of independence, most Arabs would agree that their countries have not achieved much. Corrupt regimes shattered the dreams of liberation, prosperity and justice. Republics have turned into republican-monarchies. The problem is not with whether the system is a parliamentary, presidential, republic, or monarchic. The problem is with democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and justice. Justice, that beautiful word! The Tunisian revolt is about justice. There was an economic boom in Tunisia, compared to neighboring countries, but that did not benefit the population, which is about 10 million. Economy that booms without justice is useless. It is like a military country that is feared and respected by outsiders, but the suffering is felt most inside.

I am Tunisian in this cause. I belong to the region that has been the focus of international events for the last couples of decades – let alone the recent past of colonialism, etc. Belonging to the Arab world makes you affected by the national, regional, and international events maybe more than other countries in the world. Between the developed West and the growing East (China, India, South-East four Tigers), or once the Soviet East, the Arab world finds itself in the middle, weak inside and weakened by the world big players. The fight of the Arab then is double. The struggle is on all levels, political, economic, social, cultural, etc. The rest of the world is doing so too, but with the Arab world that has been weakened for the last three-four centuries, the situation becomes unbearable. Justice is lost, while the search goes on. Tunisia events are part of the search. The neighboring oppressed and impoverished masses are sorry for the dead of this significant incident. But they are in full support. They were waiting for such an incident to go out to the streets too. In Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syrian, Palestine (always, especially after Aljazeera’s Palestine Papers controversy), Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen, the masses are in the streets, demanding equality of opportunities, democracy, and human rights and dignity to be back! […]. The Arab world seems on the move […].

The Tunisian case concerns me because the political and economic situation in the whole region depends on the political systems that these countries are. In what remains of this succinct feedback on “Tunisia Big Move” I sketch out general remarks of why I am interested, and how should the future political life in Tunisia and the region flourish. First, like all human beings and citizens of the world, the Tunisians, and the Arabs in general, love peace, justice, and prosperity. They want to enjoy life in the most respectful and egalitarian way. Despite ethnic, religious, or linguistic differences, the masses when they get angry, the first thing they call for is justice, peace and security. When security is offered without justice, they still go out and fight for it. The Tunisians seemed to have security, but they lacked justice, which brings prosperity and real peace, so they are out now for it. I wish them good luck in getting it.

Second, neither regional/national nor international players should take opportunity of this event and use it for their agenda. Stakeholders should be consulted, included, but not being left to be the only players and beneficiaries of the revolt. Three, change should start with the constitution that Ben Ali changed in the beginning of the new Millennium to suit his stay in power. The three powers, the parliament, the judiciary, and the executive, should be independent from one another. Accountability and freedom of expression to the limits of what the masses want should be the rule. Four, the governing party of Ben Ali may be either excluded from the political scene in this initial phase of reform, or included with restrictions and accountability for the last decades misrule and corruption. Excluding it one hundred per cent will not benefit the new government in the future because it will always be a barrier for change. What is happening in Iraq with the Ba”at Party of Saddam and its purification should not happen in Tunisia. Total purification can never happen all at once. The rule of law should be the base of any purification, for security and justice reasons.

Five, political pluralism should be respected, according to what the reformed constitution says. Most importantly I refer to the inclusion of the Moderate Islamic party which was active from exile, for it was banned by Ben Ali. Not including it does not change much. The Tunisian society is in majority Arab and Muslim. I do not necessarily mean Islamic piety and Islam’s religious practices which many do not follow but still feel affiliated to. Otherwise said, Bourgiba who ruled from July 1957 to November, 1987, and from then on Ben Ali who ruled after a peaceful coup d’état up to January, 2011, both of them were radical secularists and banned Islamists from politics. It is nonsense to ban Islamists, the moderates I mean, from politics in a society that is Islamic for centuries. Whether they are practicing or not is not the issue here. It is the identification of people that matters. Rooting out society from its roots does not work. Radical secularism, like Ben Ali’s, Jamal Abdenasser’s, Saddam’s in its early phase, and also Al Assad’s, does not work in a Muslim country. Let the moderate Muslims abide by the law, enter politics, and compete, and they will be accountable for what they achieve or not by the masses through elections. The Muslim world, and the Arab world in particular, has wasted a lot of time trying politics through rooting itself from its past. Neither radical secularism nor radical Islamism works. Tunisia has a good chance now to be another model of a democratic republic where the secularists, semi-secularists, and the moderate Muslims, who are actually semi-secularists and reformists, are engaged together in a pluralistic political milieu. It is the secure way to keep the Islamic radicals and the radical secularists away, in a fair and democratic way. This point is among the key issues in the governing systems in the Arab world. The Tunisians have to find a way out of it, which may be suitably followed by some neighboring corrupt regimes as well. Civil society in this sense plays a big role, and it should not be a civil society that is totally politicized nor totally humanitarian only; it should mix the social aspect with the political, to make society a healthy one, socially and politically, where awareness and accountability count.

Six, there are commentaries on line and on newspapers here and there that warn against the coming of the fundamentalists, or the remaining of the radical secularists. The previous point, Four, makes my point clear. Neither of them is inclusive. They are both radical, and to my perception, the masses want moderation, and that is what the main political and civil society fractions in society are about. The Arab world has seen enough of radicalism, and it has been a victim of regimes, internal and external, that do not listen to the majority of society, which is moderate. Tunisia may be a second good successful example of moderation and openness, as Morocco, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia – to name just these where remarkable changes are taking place – are gradually trying to be. Seven, other commentators say that the cyber-life, the on line activism, and Wiki-leaks, are behind such a move in Tunisia. Again, justice is behind such a historical move in the contemporary Arab world. Yes, the new media may have made the revolt travel east and west, north and south, but it is the masses that are most touched by it and the fuel of it. The Marxists are happy to see the “working class” on the move. Well, that does not work either. It is not just the working class. It is all the classes, except the few of the corrupt elite! Before the revolt can be labeled Marxist, Communitarian, Fundamentalist, Liberal, or whatever, it is first and foremost the voice of the ordinary citizens who miss freedom and justice. Any other ideology comes after justice.

Eight, Tunisia, in whatever step or shape it takes towards democracy and justice should be based on its history and tradition. This means that keeping ties with the neighboring Arab countries is, I should say, a geopolitical must. Tunisia is a tiny country, but with deep historical roots. I do not see good progress in the whole region if these countries do not democratize and unite. There are enmities on the borders among many of them. Algeria is in support of the secessionist movement of Polisario in the south of Morocco since 1975. The Maghreb Arab Union is frozen since the 1980s, and facing the world economic and political challenges and influences can work well through a union in the region. Justice does flourish when many people work for it. Morocco is said to be the only country now in the region that is running its way smoothly, slowly, and hopefully rightly. For this to succeed, the neighbors should support its projects, and vice versa. Cooperation in the region solidifies democracy and economic flourishing. The effects the Tunisian Big Move, let’s call it so, can be of many benefits to the country itself, to its neighbors who want change, justice, and development, and to its external allies. Democracy brings justice inside, and respect from outside, and both the insiders and outsiders can be friends. Democracies do not fight, do they?

Good luck my Tunisia. May you flourish, prosper, and enlighten the oppressed everywhere.