Arab Democracy’s First And Last Domino?

by Brendan James

With Egypt in pieces and Syria in the crosshairs, James Traub singles out Tunisia as the Arab Spring’s “last hope”:

[W]hatever dangers Tunisia now faces, there is virtually no possibility of a military coup followed by a state-sponsored war on the Muslim Brotherhood, as in Egypt. And this is so because of what may be the most salient difference between the two countries, at least in regard to their political trajectory: Egypt has an overwhelmingly politicized and intrusive army, and Tunisia does not. “None of the generals want a coup d’état,” says Adnen Hasneoui, an activist close to the ruling Ennahda party. “The only group which could carry out a coup would be the national police, and Ben Ali” — the former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — “designed the organization chart so that the police don’t have the power.” Indeed, Ben Ali’s inadvertent gift to Tunisia was to keep the military weak — Tunisia has only 27,000 very poorly equipped troops — and to exercise firm control over the Interior Ministry police.

Why compromise between government, currently led by the Islamist Ennahda party, and political opposition groups is within the realm of possibility:

Tunisian politics really is less polarized than Egyptian politics, though of course that’s not saying a great deal. The Islamists are certainly less Islamist. Mohamed Morsy was a narrow-minded functionary, while Rached Ghannouchi is a leading Islamic philosopher (and a former member of FP‘s Top 100 Global Thinkers). Ennahda agreed from the outset that the new constitution would not stipulate sharia as a source of Tunisian law, and removed offending passages about women’s rights and “the Zionist entity” after they provoked an outcry. The chances of a rapprochement in Tunisia are thus greater than they ever were in Egypt.