Tunisia’s Democratic Transition. Can it be a lesson to House Republicans?

Too often the words used in the media to describe a political situation are loaded with their own bias; in their interpretation of political events, particularly in how the stories have captured the different pace of events in the Middle East and North Africa since the start of the so called “Arab Spring” in January 2011.

As an American who has been living and traveling within this region for years and meets with Tunisians of all political and socio-economic stripes, I have always been troubled by reports filed after a particularly negative event in this country; a provocative demonstration staged by religious extremists, the assassinations of two leftist political leaders in February and July 2013, and the September 2012 attacks on the US Consul in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the loss of four American lives, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens, followed three days later with an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the neighboring American Cooperative School.

As troubling as these incidents are, anyone who lives in Tunisia and spends time here can tell you that three streets away from where these events took place, life is normal; transportation runs, shops and cafes are open, schools operate and families meet for family gatherings to celebrate lifecycle events. However, this is not what the media captures, rather too often the parachuting in of journalists to cover the event itself, speak to the same circle of politicos in the capital and then make judgments about the entire Revolutionary transition in Tunisia is simply not an objective approach to capturing events on the ground.

During these past days, Tunisian political leaders from across the spectrum have been sitting and negotiating the next stage of the democratization process. Among the discussants include the head of the Islamic party Ennahda, the current holder of plurality in the Constituent Assembly with approximately 42% of the vote, a series of other parties representing either leftist union orientated and also centrist secularists. The purpose of these meetings which are taking place in a spirit not of brotherly love or without some rancor, but in the spirit of trying to find a political process that is healthiest for Tunisia as a country. In that spirit, all members have been voicing their opinions, including some on an argumentative level, but together, find themselves standing and singing Tunisia’s national anthem in an honest show of what they all hold in their hearts…a sense of Tunisian pride.

True, the roadmap to democratization is not easy. When one looks at all the other countries that followed Tunisia’s January 2011 Revolution and were inspired to launch their own revolutions, not one country has been able to retain a path that is showing optimistic signs of peace and democratic freedom. The one exception is the country where it all began, but is seldom covered properly by the media who fly in and then fly out!

The subsequent weeks will still hold out the hope that a peaceful transition, a political process that brings all the actors together will lead to this country’s second free and transparent elections since January 2011. Is this “turmoil”, a word so often used, or, simply the difficult process of democratization in a nascent democracy?

Tunisia deserves special attention. It can still serve as a potential model for new democracies…assuredly, not a process that will be without many ups and downs to come. Imagine how Tunisians might view the U.S. Congress where a small, but extremist elected group of officials chose to bring an economic shutdown to the US government this week, rather than accept democratically negotiated and elected political platforms.

Regardless of what Tunisia’s newest round of political negotiations brings, Tunisians can be proud that they are sitting together and talking, as this is what lies at the heart of democracy. Let’s give Tunisia our support in continuing this process!

Jerry Sorkin is a longtime political observer, based in Tunis, Tunisia. He is Founder and President of TunisUSA, as well as a tourism consultant to organizations including The World Bank, The European Community and George Washington University program in Tourism Studies.

Mr. Sorkin was recently the featured speaker at the Commonwealth Club of CA on September 11, 2013


The Tunisian Model of Revolution and the Challenges of Democracy:


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