Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Tunisian model

The preliminary results of the first election of the so-called "Arab Spring" are in and the Tunisian people have elected a so-called "moderate Islamist" party the Ennahda Party. The Ennahda Party as expected won the largest proportion of the vote and will probably form the Government, although in coalition with other parties.

Maybe the election will not only be the first, but also the last election in Tunisia. How can an Islamist party be "moderate? Islamists are united by several things, one is the primacy of Islam, second is antagonism to the West (Christianity, Judaism and secularism), third is the need to impose Sharia law, and fourth is the relegation of women to second class citizenship (under Sharia women are "owned" by men). These policies are incompatible with democracy and liberal ideals (respecting the rights of minorities). However, the Ennahda Party's leaders are at great pains to persuade everyone listening that they respect the democratic system, that they do not want to impose another "dictatorship" in Tunisia and that they will not reverse the relatively liberal, westernized culture of Tunisia. However, there is a dichotomy here, if Tunisia is in fact liberal, pro-western and Francophile, why would the majority vote for an Islamist party? This is the same paradox that happened in Iran, where westerners assumed that Iran under the Shah was a progressive, pro-Western culture, but in fact discovered the day after the Islamic revolution that it was in fact backward-looking and Islamist in the worst possible way. SInce the Ennahda Party was banned under the former dictator Ben-Ali, it seems that he was suppressing the very anti-democratic Islamist fervor that has been banned in Algeria, Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood) and other countries.

So now the future depends on whether or not such a thing as a "moderate" Islamist Party can exist, as perhaps in Turkey, in conjunction with a democratic system. Can they allow free elections, can they allow criticism of their policies (who can criticize Islam) and can they allow thermselves to be defeated in a future election? It seems intrinsically unlikely, but that is what the Arab Spring has produced.


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