Tunisia and Egypt, neighbors whose twin revolts ignited the Arab Spring, are a dual lesson in the pitfalls and potentials for democracy across the region, The New York Times reports:
On the third anniversary of the flight of the former strongman, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s constituent assembly was poised on Tuesday to approve a new constitution that is one of the most liberal in the Arab world. A carefully worded blend that has won the approval of both the governing Islamist party and its secular opposition, the new charter presents the region with a rare model of reconciliation over the vexing question of Islam’s role in public life.
With the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammed. Morsi and the subsequent violent crackdown, what began as a revolution in became another chapter in “the very old and always violent story” of “the rivalry between the security state and the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Zaid al-Ali, a legal expert in Cairo tracking both charters for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
“In Tunisia, we have turned the page completely, and you really feel that a revolution has taken place,” he said. “In Egypt, that is debatable.”
“‘Train wreck’ might be a charitable way to describe where Egypt is right now,” said Nathan J. Brown, an expert on Arab legal systems at George Washington University. In Tunisia, he said, “everybody keeps dancing on the edge of a cliff, but they never fall off,” he told the Times:
The difference, scholars said, lies in the shape of the shards left after each country’s revolt. Tunisia’s brutal security police virtually collapsed during its revolt, while its small, professionalized military historically had no interest in political power. In civilian politics, its Islamist and secular factions were relatively evenly matched, with the Islamists winning only a plurality in Tunisia’s first free vote. Each side needed the other to govern.
The new text says the defence minister is to be appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, for the first two presidential terms following the constitution taking effect. It no longer allows military courts to try civilians, except in cases where they are charged with direct attacks on the army or its property.