Tunisia’s experience holds many lessons for other countries undergoing a democratic transition, says Rached Ghannouchi, the founder and president of the Ennahda Party.
Tunisia’s success was built on consensus, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:
This has prevented fragile democratic institutions from collapsing due to political conflict. Tunisia’s commitment to inclusion also allowed us to navigate questions of transitional justice and begin addressing decades of inequality and an economy plagued by inherited structural problems. There can be no majority or minority when building the foundations of democracy.
The decision not to nominate an Ennahda presidential candidate reflected our willingness to make sacrifices to prevent polarization. Domination by any one political faction risks a return to the authoritarianism under which Tunisians suffered for three decades.
The labor unions of the UGTT were the most significant of the civil society groups that played a vital role in advancing and defending the transition, says Salah Eddin al Jourshi, President of the Al Jaheth Cultural Forum.
“There are dangers that threaten the process of building a healthy civil society from parties who have a completely opposite understanding of civil society in its modern meaning,” he told the Arab Reform Initiative’s Bassma Kodmani and Salam Kawabiki:
This new force, and we use the term “force” here because civil society played an important role when the parties were weak and fought each other, intervened to limit the ramifications of these disputes, or at least to direct them to a specific course of action. ….Civil society played a major role in preparing for the holding of elections that were important in the history of Tunisia. Through this process, some civil society leaders joined the executive authority and for three years now, are government leaders or in state institutions. Many of them were nurtured in civil society and managed associations and human rights organisations. They were behind the first commission that was established. If there had been a similar commission in Egypt, events would not have unfolded as they have. In order for the commission to protect the revolution and democratic transition, the head and members were from civil society.
Europe can play a vital role in sustaining Tunisia’s progress and promoting an alternative, Ghannouchi adds:
Increased foreign direct investment and trade can create high-skilled jobs that provide social mobility, strengthen our society and limit the appeal of extremist groups. Simultaneously, it will offer European companies with operations in Tunisia a high-quality gateway to Africa. The combination of increased regional security and business growth can only be a positive for Tunisia and Europe. …..But Tunisia’s democratic transition remains unfinished and cannot be taken for granted. Tunisia’s friends in Europe can help ensure our continued progress, a contribution that will benefit not just Tunisia but the rest of the region and beyond.