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Middle East and Africa

The Revolution is Dead. In Fact it is not

The different emphases of the international mass media in reporting about the recent elections demonstrate how the case of Tunisia is the subject of especial attention on the part of those who are trying to measure whether a society with a Muslim majority can construct a democratic State and the consequences for the whole of the Mediterranean basin.

But is it really true that things were better when they were worse? On the eve of the elections in Tunisia for some daily newspapers such was really the case. The economic crisis from which the country has not managed to recover and a fact that inspires fear in many people (The Washington Post to give just one example) – Tunisia holds the record for the number of militiamen who have gone to join the ranks of the Caliphate of Al-Baghdadi – weighed on the country like a millstone. To this was added the references to the chaotic situation in Libya on the borders of Tunisia and thus the picture was alarming.

 

 

Even from Sidi Bouzid, the city where the so-called Arab Springs began, where a photograph of Mohamed Bouzizi is hung side by side with pictures of the most important Arab squares crowded with people, ‘everything changed so that nothing would change’. As Francesco Battistini reported in the Corriere della Sera of 25 October: ‘Sidi Bouzid is the postcard of the Tunisian autumn. Embittered, unemployed and frightened’. Even the parents of Bouzizi, the man who through his extreme gesture triggered the revolts, allow themselves to engage in not even very concealed regrets about the old dictator, Ben Ali.

 

 

Not all of the national and international press sees things in this way. From the columns of the British daily newspaper The Guardian, Soumaya Gannouchi, the daughter of the president of an-Nahda, on the day before the elections gave herself over to praise for the Tunisian nation which she said was endowed with ‘a democratic modern Constitution that was approved by 93% of the political forces’. A Constitution that guarantees the equality of men and women (the BBC), defends freedom of conscience and worship, and prohibits incitement to violence. In what appears to be an authentic endorsement of an-Nahda, Soumaya Gannouchi did not fail to emphasise the distance between the approach chosen by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt after it won the elections (the ‘winner takes all’ approach) and the choice in favour of power sharing that was promoted by an-Nahda which in 2011 agreed to govern in a coalition of secular parties.

 

 

Al Jazeera, although, on the one hand, it laid positive emphasis on how an-Nahda chose the pathway of ‘ballots, not bullets’, on the other stressed how it was impossible to eliminate in such a short period of time the networks and the structures that had developed over twenty years under the ‘Mafia state’ of Ben Ali.

 

The nuances were very different but optimism about the fate of the revolution did not seem to hold away in the way in which the mass media reported the drawing near of the Tunisian elections. But something changed in those same mass media during the days that followed the announcement of the results. The elections were a political event of great importance in the view of Le Monde: an event able to rebalance political scenarios in a country in which an-Nahda seemed not to have rivals. The pessimistic tones employed only a few days before the elections created space for surprise at the performance of the secular party Nidaa Tunis and at the turnout which was higher than 50%: ‘lost in transition? Not Tunisia. The revolution is not snoring; indeed, it is wide awake!’1. The Financial Times, side by side with a critical note on the composition of the party which emerged victorious from the ballot booths and which includes figures from the old regime, hurried to make clear that ‘the changes in the country since the revolution preclude a return to former repressive practices’2.

 

 

For that matter some of the principal politicians of the international scene do not have doubts. Barack Obama spoke about a ‘milestone in the historic Tunisian political transition’, and Laurent Fabius, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, emphasised how we are faced with ‘the birth of the perennial and democratic institutions of the Second Tunisian Republic’. Perhaps encouraged by these enthusiastic declarations of political leaders, the Turkish press also asked itself about the meaning of the Tunisian elections. In the view of Semih Idiz (Hurriyet) new hope emerged from the polling booths: the Tunisian system showed that it was a mature system, able to repudiate the myth that democratic elections in countries with a Muslim majority must necessarily involve success for Islamist parties. This was an opinion also shared by the French Le Figaro: ‘this small country of eleven million inhabitants contradicts the opinion that ‘with Islamists you only vote once’’. According to this Parisian daily, the ‘Tunisian exception’ is also due to ‘the vitality of its civil society, without doubt the most westernised in the Maghreb’. And so, all of a sudden, the economic crisis and the very many Tunisians who went off to fight for Isis no longer seem to be a problem. But is this really the case?

 

 

@fontana_claudio

 

 

1 Francesco Battistini, Sorpresa a Tunisi: la rivoluzione ha voglia di votare, «Il Corriere della Sera, 27 ottobre 2014, 14

 

2 Heba Saleh, Secular party claims victory over Islamists in Tunisia poll, «Financial Times», 28 ottobre 2014, 2

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