From paragon to pariah

A picture taken on November 20, 2012 shows Tunisian lawyer Chokri Belaid during a radio interview in Tunis. (AFP PHOTO / KHALIL)

In the aftermath of its revolution Tunisia appeared to be facing a different fate than Libya and Egypt, where Islamists have emerged with a concern for authority above any other agenda.

Although it too existed for decades under a dictatorship, Tunisia had a society more open to equality and cultural and social freedom.

Though Tunisia had its own Islamist elements, and opposition, their disagreements were of a calmer nature than elsewhere, particularly in nearby Egypt.

It therefore came as somewhat of a surprise that rather than Tunisian politics maturing to take account of the grievances on its streets, the streets once again came alive with protests after the assassination Wednesday of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

Among the protests that followed his death could be heard echoes of the slogans heard in the country’s revolution two years ago.

The instability of the current situation in Tunisia threatens to unleash fresh violence and anarchy, jeopardize security and thereby lead to increased oppression.

This anger has sought a target, and it has settled on Ennahda and the country’s Islamist and Salafist elements.

In such a situation it is less important whether Ennahda is directly responsible. They cannot escape blame for the direction the country has gone in, and the way they have decided to lead, and the discontent that they have provoked as a result of that.

The violent reaction that has come out of this discontent threatens to be the first nail in the coffin of Tunisia’s revolution. Violence will beget violence.

The country has come to a crossroads.

It is important that there is a genuine and honest effort to nip the causes of this discontent in the bud. This must be done by looking at the grievances and aspirations of the people and reconsidering and rectifying some of the mistakes of the past two years, so the country can once again move forward on the right path.

All political factions must have a stake in the future of Tunisia. These are critical times for the country. The wrong attitude could lead it to the abyss. It is only necessary to look at its neighboring countries to see how it could go wrong.

In the aftermath of a revolution, it is tempting to believe that the hardest part is over. But a change of leadership is no magic solution to a country’s everyday problems.

Creating a democracy is not a matter of making the right speeches. Rather, it requires openness and respect for dialogue. Transparency is key and wise leaders are honest about the struggles a country is facing.

Tunisia is on the threshold of losing everything it has achieved in the past two years if its leaders are not going to have the intelligence to bridge the gaps of communication and cooperation in the country and to learn from the mistakes of the former regime and what’s happening around it.

It would be a shame for this revolution, which was the catalyst for change in the region, to end up not as an example but instead as a pariah.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 07, 2013, on page 7.




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