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Analysis of the outcomes of the “Arab Spring” across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) reveals some broad trends. In Morocco and Jordan, limited political concessions appeased protestors, quelling protracted dissent. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, civil unrest was (and is still) violently quashed. Libya and Yemen are in nascent stages of political transformation, yet deep social and economic divides mark both states. Despite elections, Yemen is fractured between north and south, with political marginalisation and conflict enduring within these poles,(2) and malnutrition, hunger, drought, lack of oil and water, and the threat of Al Qaeda compound Yemen’s challenges further.(3) Libya, though holding peaceful democratic elections on 7 July 2012, may backslide into warlordism if the central authorities are unable to decommission the militias it has drawn upon thus far to maintain relative peace amongst its diverse tribes and regions.(4) In Syria, President Assad’s Government and the Free Syrian Army are in all out civil war.(5) If the latter prevails, there is no telling what may result given Syrian history of successive coups and uprisings preceding the Assad dynasty. Rather than positive political transformation, the power vacuum created by the fall of the Assad regime may revert the country to its pre-Asad state of affairs. To date, only Egypt and Tunisia have led successful revolutions and are undergoing democratic transition.
In the analysis that follows, the common factors that led to the successful ouster of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes are outlined. I then review the significant differences between Egypt and Tunisia with respect to their pre- and post-revolutionary experiences. I argue that Egypt is entrenched in an early phase of democratic transition and has yet to undergo a full transfer of power from the military to the people. Tunisia is closer to democratic consolidation; however, it lacks the scope and scale of long-term planning that will translate into the sound economic reform that it needs to build confidence in its democratic process. I conclude by contextualising these differences with respect to the challenges facing Egypt and Tunisia as their societies move through very different phases of democratic transition.
Backgrounder: The fruits of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt and Tunisia
For a revolution to be successful, a number of conditions must be met:
The policies and effects of the Government must be so detrimental to the country’s medium- to long-term success that a sizable proportion of the population is willing to put itself at risk in order to overturn the regime.
That proportion of the population will likely have to put aside its classist, ethnic, religious, and other interests and allegiances, at least for the short term, in order to prioritise the ouster of the regime’s leader and mobilise for the cause.
Elites, whether the military or crony capitalists, must cease their support for the regime, viewing instead their personal and national interests as better protected under an alternative arrangement.
Finally, the international community must either work alongside the revolution or else stave off its support for the regime in order to allow revolutionary mobilisation to succeed.(6)
Both Egypt and Tunisia met these conditions. In Tunisia, beginning with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, rural disaffected workers in largely neglected areas found “common cause with a once powerful but much repressed labor movement.”(7) In Egypt, protests spread from urban centres to rural outlets as the working and unemployed poor on the periphery joined the fray. Common slogans for economic and social justice rallied the Tunisian and Egyptian people around demands for the ouster of their respective dictators. Tunisia’s Army Chief of Staff Rachid Ammar refused to open fire on Tunisia’s protestors. So, too, did Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi in the Egyptian context. Military support for the people and against the regimes followed. The international community, bearing witness through both conventional and social media, to the strength and resolve of the revolutions, eventually supported breaks with the authoritarian patron rulers they supported for decades. Thus, Tunisia, and then Egypt, led successful non-violent revolutions.
Comparing Egypt and Tunisia: Democratic transition vs. democratic consolidation
A comparison of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutionary and post-revolutionary experiences yields both similarities and differences. Two major Islamist parties—the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Ennahda—won substantial support through post-revolutionary elections and inspired widespread concern over an ‘Islamic summer’ or ‘secular winter’ in Western media. Strained economies and drained reserves, low tourism turnouts exacerbated further by the Euro crisis, continued cronyism and corruption, and little promise for foreign direct investment (given the continued threats of insecurity and instability posed by terrorism on the periphery) are also shared between them.
Tunisia presents a more promising transition to democracy than does Egypt. The main differences between them are attributable to three main factors: 1) the method by which political parties and activists, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood (in Egypt) and Ennahda (in Tunisia), prepared for political transformation in a post-authoritarian setting, 2) the function of the military within these states, and 3) the role of the international community in post-revolutionary democratic transition. These three factors are instrumental insofar as they place Tunisia in a phase of transition that is close to, or within reach of, democratic consolidation. Egypt, on the other hand, is marred in early phases of democratic transition that will not move forward until more significant power is transferred from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to the people.
(1) Building post-authoritarian democratic trust: Agreement, disagreement, and compromise between secular and Islamist politics
The fight for political freedoms and against authoritarianism is nothing new to Tunisian and Egyptian societies. A rich history of organised opposition and resistance by multiple sectors—labour unions, students, and Islamists chief among them—are prominent in both Egyptian and Tunisian contexts. In both societies, Islamists were considered the most threatening entity to the regime, rendering Islamists also the most persecuted. From prison and from exile, supporting professional syndicates and operating as charitable organisations within and between the sinews of society, the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda were well prepared for the moment wherein they could exercise the broad and deep reaches of their organisations.
Leaving aside the aforementioned overarching economic and social challenges, the politics of Egyptian and Tunisian post-revolutionary cases present differently. The MB, in line with its slogan, “Islam is the solution,” maintains a purportedly Islamist ideology of state and society. By contrast, Ennahda postures itself as a civic organisation. In the words of Columbia Professor Alfred Stepan, Ennahda abides by the “twin tolerations.” Namely, Ennahda took steps to ensure that its secular and leftist co-revolutionists were assured that it was prepared to respect an arrangement whereby the institutions of state guarantee freedom and autonomy for religious institutions, and wherein religious institutions would be required to allow the state due freedom and autonomy of its own. Ennahda entered into a number of agreements and compromises with the Congress for the Republic (CPR), the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), and Ettakatol to secure an understanding about what Tunisian political culture and civil society might look like in a post-authoritarian setting.(8) As such, Tunisia’s transition to democratic consolidation is underway. As Stepan argues, this is because:
There was sufficient agreement on the protocols and procedures to implement an elected Government;
The Government came to power as the direct result of free and fair popular vote;
The Government now has the autonomy and authority to generate policies, amend, and reconstruct old ones at will; and finally,
The three branches of Government (executive, legislative, and judicial) do not have to share power with the military or religious leadership as they formulate and implement democratic rule.
The Ben Achour Commission—an umbrella organisation comprised of 150 members responsible for the National Constituent Assembly election (NCA)—established a number of agreements between major political parties, including: a “process first” view that addressed only those matters necessary to return order and stability to Tunisia; a constituent assembly vote that took place prior to a vote for the president so that incentives were present to build consensuses and party platforms that were prioritised over electing a leader who might otherwise wield too much power; ensuring that women are given ample representation in writing the constitution; and the creation of an electoral commission to ensure that all parties were confident in the legitimacy of the elections.(9) These agreements and compromises are manifest in the preamble to Tunisia’s constitution, a document that calls for an “Arab-Muslim” state that aspires towards a “participatory, democratic republic” to be based on civil institutions through which “the desires of the people are guaranteed” and calling upon “wise government” with “respect for human rights” to support “the people’s right to determine their destiny” for the causes of “the oppressed everywhere.” Sharia, it was agreed upon, would not explicitly be mentioned in the preamble. A general election is scheduled for March 2013.(10)
The Egyptian case demonstrates limited agreement and compromise between the MB and its co-revolutionists. In Egypt, smoke and mirrors, political theatrics, and widespread distrust fog decisive, transparent, and expedient transfer of powers from the SCAF to the people. What is more, the MB and SCAF continue to marginalise opposition groups and thwart democratic politics. Prior to the post-revolutionary elections, nothing resembling the consensus- and confidence- building measures between Ennahda and its leftist and secular opposition partners was extant in Egypt in preparation for post-authoritarian rule. The closest the MB came to allying itself with other political parties occurred during the 2005 Egyptian elections wherein the MB entertained limited coordination with a broad coalition of parties banning together on one ticket: the United National Front for Change (UNFC). Despite these limited efforts, however, the MB ran its candidates as nominal independents, and the UNFC was overall poorly organised and under-represented across Egypt’s 222 electoral districts; the latter ultimately failing to shore up a unified front.(11) Furthermore, the MB, unlike Ennahda, would not entertain compromise on the character of the state. For the MB, democracy in Egypt is Islamic democracy.(12) In this, the MB in Egypt differs drastically from Ennahda. As Professor Allaya Allani put it, Ennahda’s discourse presents a democratic state that exists with Islam, while the MB wants an Islamic state.(13) The MB is, therefore, uninterested in aligning itself politically with a platform that varies from this agenda.
In Egypt, exclusive focus on electoral politics following the revolution had a negative impact on democratic transition, leaving Egyptians with elections, but little democracy to speak of.(14) In this, the MB and SCAF excluded non-elite and non-Islamist factions like women, Coptic Christians, students, and labour unions by supporting Parliamentary elections prior to the drafting of a constitution. This decision, passed by a 77% vote of approval supported by Salafists, the MB, and the old guard, worked to the detriment of the secular and liberal movements that supported and spawned the revolution in the first place. The outcome had a drastic impact on the elections themselves and was a significant blow to the democratic process. The Brotherhood, by far the most organised and popular single party, was pitted against a disorganised secular-leftist contingent. Indeed, despite wielding a substantial proportion of votes, the centrist, secular-leftist vote split, rendering the MB the primary benefactor.(15)
(2) The function of the Egyptian and Tunisian militaries
The reason why the military’s role in siding with the people is so instrumental as a sufficient (albeit not a necessary) condition for successful revolution is because the military and police retain a monopoly on violence, and with it, a means to quash opposition. In a healthy democratic arrangement, the people are in charge of the functioning of the state (which wields the monopoly on violence) through direct or indirect means (namely, electing representation) and a division of powers. In Tunisia, Ben Ali maintained the military on the periphery, granting it a minimal role, if any, in the political affairs of the state. Since Tunisia’s military was the first to confront protestors on a somewhat mass scale, Tunisia’s military was unable to respond with foresight, anticipation, or warning that could favourably entrench its position within the new political vacuum. As such, the Tunisian military was unable to reap the benefits of revolution even if it wanted to. In any case, however, Tunisia’s military was amenable to the labour unions, and it played a decisive role in toppling the successor Government after Ben Ali’s flight and overseeing the installation of an interim Government that was supportive of the people.(16)
Although the military is a longstanding and respected institution in Egypt, the SCAF (now in control of the military) runs more than the means to quash rebellion: the Egyptian military also manages approximately one-fifth of the Egyptian economy. Thus, the SCAF has little incentive to transfer power to the people, let alone to a MB dominated Government. Rather, the SCAF is quite literally invested in maintaining its stronghold over a number of key industries and political positions within Egypt. In this, the SCAF has taken significant steps to ensure that it remains in its position of ultimate power over the military and its proportion of the economy. Ahead of the elections, the “Selmi document” outlined “supra-constitutional principles” designed to protect minority rights and stability. The SCAF used xenophobic and populist rhetoric to denounce democratic governance and position themselves as the protectors of society from Islamists and thugs (read: secular-liberal protestors); a military-appointed justice ministry gave the military powers to arrest and detain people without due cause, a ruling that smacks of the old days of emergency-laws; it postponed the transfer of powers with occasional but limited concessions (resembling Mubarak’s semi-authoritarian practices); it outlawed sit-ins by newly created labour unions; and it divided the opposition by tantalising the MB with the prospect of power-sharing.(17) President Morsi and the MB are left with few cards to play, if any. And aside from reverting back to revolution in order to counter the counter-revolution, the Egyptian people hold even fewer.
No sooner was Morsi elected president than the SCAF announced the dissolution of Parliament. A constitutional declaration followed, granting the SCAF legislative authority and control over the drafting of the constitution. The SCAF then announced that it retained the right [sic] to manage the budget and promote officers to high posts within the military, effectively castrating the President’s ability to declare war. On 8 July 2012, President Morsi defied the SCAF when he reinstated parliament by “executive” decree. Parliament convened for all but minutes on 10 July 2012, opening with Speaker El Katatni of the MB referring the contested decision to the Appeals Court. For its part, the Appeals court declared itself incompetent, since the SCC is the higher authority, and the former deferred the decision back to the latter. Field Marshall Tantawi later explained his decision to dissolve parliament as a mere “executive of the constitutional court’s ruling” in what respected journalist Robert Fisk considers an “understanding” between the MB and the SCAF, for now.(18) Amid a number of legal rulings still pending in the courts,(19) the issue of whether the MB, and with it, President Morsi, are entitled to exist as political entities at all remains in question: though the SCAF approved of the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party, religious-based parties are illegal in Egypt. That ruling will not be decided upon until September, and until then, it will remain an ace of spades that the SCAF can play at any time in order to completely dissolve the Presidency and MB if its position is threatened. All of this is to say that the SCAF is in more or less full control of Egypt, with President Morsi acting as a mere patina: the President may still issue decrees, but not even that is a democratic prerogative. And in any case, the SCAF can overturn presidential decrees at will. It appears as though post-revolutionary Egypt underwent “structural change to the regime rather than regime change,” with the SCAF simply replacing Mubarak as the centralised executive authority within the state apparatus.(20)
(3) The role of international NGOs
The impact of international NGOs in training democratic aspirants in democratising states cannot be stressed enough. States that are undergoing democratic transition are helped tremendously by the work of organisations like Freedom House,(21) the International Republican Institute,(22) and the National Democratic Institute,(23) among others. While these organisations continue to work in Tunisia to advise on the writing of the constitution, hold workshops on how to organise and manage political parties, address the media, and expedite communications, along with the provision of other valuable activities and services, Egypt’s crackdown on international NGOs(24) is deleterious to the education and training of its activists and its people. While 43 NGO workers on delayed trial in Egypt, NGO funding for pro-democratic programmes will likely remain minimal.(25) And this speaks nothing of the 400 local NGOs currently targeted within Egypt.(26) Of course, the political motivation for attacking all of these groups is obvious: For as long as masses and/or marginalised groups are unable to avail themselves of training and seek recourse to under-education in the political and legal channels through which they can exert democratic rights and freedoms, the SCAF (and, consequently, the MB), is able to maintain its predominance. In the words of Lorne Croner, IRI President, “one election does not a democracy make.”(27) The second and third elections coincide with significant strides in voter education and democratic experience. The second and third elections are what cultivate and consolidate a demos.
“Not a single sultan overthrow in the last 30 years,” notes political scientist Jack Goldstone “has been succeeded by an ideologically driven or radical Government. Rather, in every case, the end product has been flawed democracy—often corrupt and prone to authoritarian tendencies, but not aggressive or extremist.”(28) Indeed, there appears to be three options for Egypt: a rollback into semi-authoritarian, military dictatorship; a drawn out process of democratic transition, with the Muslim Brotherhood and military sharing power for the conceivable future; or a transfer of power to the people in which democracy might eventually take root through subsequent rounds of elections. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently urged dialogue, stating that the Egyptian people should "get what they protested for and what they voted for, which is a fully elected government making the decisions for the country going forward."(29) On 23 March 2012, the United States Government signed off on granting Egypt US$ 1.3 billion for yet another year — without congressional conditions linking military funding to human rights, due process, or democracy. It is crucial that international pressure is exerted against the reversion to authoritarian ways in Egypt. For, so long as the power play between the MB and the SCAF continues, neither the MB nor the SCAF will be able to devote the attention and resources to the economy and to the people that are deserved. A transfer of power must be definitive. Upcoming elections must be secured. The Egyptian people must be granted democratic powers to determine their future.
The month of Ramadan will leave the MB-dominated Government sleepy and, at the same time, permit the SCAF to further drag its feet on notable reforms. For now, the two are in détente. The economy continues to slump, corruption continues unabated, and transitional justice goes continually unaddressed. The month of September (2012) will dawn a new day. While neither the MB nor the SCAF can be expected to take any drastic measures, lest the security and stability of the country is jeopardised, and with it the remainder of their legitimacy to rule, protestors’ return to Tahrir Square can be expected. Between the SCAF and the MB lie some red lines: the SCAF is likely to remain in control of the military budget, its two-fifths share of the economy, defense, interior, military appointments, and the call to war. The MB, while wanting a massive turnover of Government, knows too well that seating too many of its members in cabinet will raise eyebrows and cause opposition parties to once again unite against a common foe. All the while, the people of Egypt will demand civilian oversight and a representative role in Parliament. Despite all of these setbacks, a few steps forward and a couple back leaves progress in sum. Flashpoints can be expected, to be sure. “One election does not a democracy make,” but it does set a precedent and a standard by which to judge future politics. The question for Egypt is relative: how much progress can be made under current conditions? The Tunisian example gives an inkling of an answer to that question and provides a valuable lesson for other “Arab Spring” states.
Tunisian political discontents are palpable. Yet polls show that Tunisia is following a normal course relative to other states that underwent recent democratic transitions.(30) Tunisia’s challenges remain with a Government whose initiatives lack scale and scope, viewing the interim Government period as a means to an end. To wit, rather than instituting drastic structural change with long term vision, this interim period is being treated as a half measure in view of the next election period.(31) Relative to Egypt, Tunisia’s ability to focus on the economy, employment, and transitional justice represents a privileged position and an opportunity that the Tunisian Government is doubtless squandering.
In contrast to the three years prior to the revolution, in which seven million tourists visited the small North African state, 2011 brought in only three million visitors. Europeans account for 80% of Tunisia’s tourists, and the Euro crisis is not boding well. The Tunisian Government needs to diversify its tourism industry to move away from blue-collar targets and toward tourism strategies that identify the backpackers and upper middle class patrons on either pole (southeast Asian and Asian tourists should likewise be made a priority while their economies grow and their infrastructural capabilities to travel expand).(32) While short-term job creation is being sought out, not enough long-term planning is as of yet being done to find suitable employment for Tunisia’s educated and underemployed population. To be sure, the greatest discrepancy in unemployment now and decades ago is that the unemployed in Tunisia’s educated sector has risen dramatically, from 3% in 1984 to 20% in 2010.(33) While these figures are not attributable to the revolution, extant as they were in pre-revolutionary times, the exigent demands for reasonable employment for the educated must be addressed by the interim Government. Human capital thus remains undervalued despite its abundance in the Tunisian context. Entrepreneurial élan is limited, lacking, and without proper incentive. Starting a small business in Tunisia is nearly impossible: licensing requirements cost twice the average annual salary.(34) For those less formally educated street vendors who, like Mohamed Bouazizi, are trying to make ends meet by selling wares on the streets with or without a permit, corruption by police officials is rife. And it does not seem like many higher-ups within the police forces are willing to do very much about it,(35) despite continued violence between vendors and police in the capital.(36) Transitional justice is taking a back seat to the economy and political process, a prioritisation that could have long-term repercussions and lead to short-term discontents that remove confidence and popular legitimacy from the Government.
In short, Tunisia’s democratic transition is boding well for consolidation, though it could bode better for the people. Egypt is caught between democracy and naught of a new kind. Mubarak is gone, but, for now, it seems like new antidemocratic forces have replaced him.
Written by Matt Gordner (1)
(1) Contact Matt Gordner through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Conflict & Terrorism Unit ( email@example.com).
(2) ‘Yemen: Enduring conflicts, threatened transition’, International Crisis Group, 2 July 2012, http://www.crisisgroup.org.
(3) 47% of Yemenis children under the age of five are malnourished, with one quarter of a million children currently dying of starvation. Fifty percent of Yemenis have no ready access to basic foodstuffs. See ‘Turmoil and malnutrition haunts Yemen’ BBC, 22 July 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk.
(4) Wehrey, F., ‘Libya’s Militia Menace’, Foreign Affairs, 15 July 2012, http://www.foreignaffairs.com.
(5) ‘Red Cross: Syria Conflict is Civil War’, Huffington Post, 15 July 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com.
(6) Goldstone, J.A., Understanding the Revolutions of 2011. Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011.
(7) Anderson, L., 2011. Demystifying the Arab Spring: Parsing the differences between Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Foreign Affairs, May/June.
(8) This “understanding” is the result of a process that includes: a promise by Ennahda not to reverse the family code; a promise not to insist on a Shura Council (like the MB), but rather something more comparable to the Turkish model of secularism; the “Call from Tunis,” which endorsed the principles that a future Government would be founded on the sovereignty of the people as the sole source of legislation, and a guarantee freedom of belief and the neutralisation of places of worship in political matters, full equality of men and women, and respect for “Arab-Muslim values.” See Stepan, A., 2012. Tunisia’s Transition and the Twin Tolerations. Journal of Democracy, 12(2), pp. 89-103.
(10) It is widely believed that this target date will not be reached, and that elections might take place in June instead.
(11) Arafat, A., 2009. Hosni Mubarak and the Future of Democracy in Egypt. Palgrave Macmillan: New York.
(12) See, for example, the interview with Essam El-Erian, MB spokesman and political strategist in The Rise of the Brothers. The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, 2011, pp. 94-100.
(13) Interview with Professor Allaya Allani, La Marsa, Tunisia: 16 July 2012.
(14) Elgindy, K., 2012. Egypt’s troubled transition: Elections without democracy. The Washington Quarterly, 35(2) pp. 89-104
(15) Zall, C., ‘Egypt Election: Split Vote Keeps Centrist Candidates from Advancing’, The World, 28 May 2012, http://www.theworld.org.
(16) Anderson, L., 2011. Demystifying the Arab Spring: Parsing the differences between Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Foreign Affairs, May/June.
(17) Teti, A. and Gervason, G., 2012. After Mubarak, before transition: The challenges for Egypt’s democratic transition. Interface, 4(1), pp. 103.
(18) Fisk, R., ‘A truce is declared in Egypt and the revolution continues – for now’, The Independent, 11 July 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk.
(19) Mazel, Z., ‘Arab World: Who Will Rule Egypt’, The Jerusalem Post, 19 July 2012, http://www.jpost.com.
(20) See, for example, Stacher, J. 2012. Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria, AUC Press: Cairo.
(21) See Egypt’s country report at http://www.freedomhouse.org.
(22) ‘Egypt’, IRI, http://www.iri.org.
(23) ‘Egypt, NDI, http://www.ndi.org.
(24) Kelemen, M., ‘Americans appear at NGO trial in Egypt’, NPR, 5 June 2012, http://www.npr.org.
(25) Allen, M., ‘Egypt’s NGOs, secular liberals ‘sidelined’ in transition they initiated’, Democracy Digest, 26 June 2012, http://www.demdigest.net.
(26) Sorcher, S., ‘Sherif Mansour Returns to Egypt to Face NGO Trial’, National Journal, 2 June 2012, http://www.nationaljournal.com.
(27) ‘IRI President testifies on the situation in Egypt’, International Republican Institute, 16 February 2012, http://www.iri.org.
(28) Goldstone, J.A., Understanding the Revolutions of 2011. Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011.
(29) ‘Thousands in Cairo protest high court ruling’, Aljazeera, 11 July 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com.
(30) ‘IRI releases second post=eection poll in Tunisia’, International Republican Institute, 30 May 2012, http://www.iri.org; IRI Tunisia Index, IRI, http://www.iri.org.
(31) Achy, L., ‘Ennahda Proposes Big Spending to Stimulate Tunisia’s Economy’, Al Monitor, 28 May 2012, http://www.al-monitor.com.
(32) Achy, L., ‘The Tourism Crisis in Tunisia Goes Beyond Security’, Al Monitor, 26 June 2012, http://www.al-monitor.com.
(33) Lamont, S., ‘Job Creation in Tunisia: Investing in Human Capital Post-Ben Ali’, IMES Capstone Series, May 2012, http://www.gwu.edu.
(34) ‘Tunisia’, Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org.
(35) Magid, P., ‘Vendors Accuse Police of Accepting and Demanding Bribes’, Tunisia Live, 12 July 2012, http://www.tunisia-live.net.
(36) Magid, P., ‘Second Brawl between Vendors and Police in One Week’, Tunisia Live, 13 July 2012, http://www.tunisia-live.net.
Province Or State