This same uncertainty afflicts Turkey, where the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) currently enjoys a large parliamentary majority. Turkey is a secular democracy, but even there we don't yet know if ruling Islamists can lose an election and become a loyal opposition party. Turkish secularists contend the AKP is dismantling Turkey's democracy and will never relinquish power. The AKP says that it is demilitarizing Turkey's state in order to meet European Union democratic guidelines. The AKP website claims that "the secular, democratic, social state of law and the processes of civilianization, democratization, freedom of belief and equality of opportunity are considered essential" to its political program.
The AKP has had to please Turkish voters in order to win elections -- in other words, it has faced a bottom-up democratic check (a free election) on top-down decisions. In my own view, Turkey is already deeply engaged in a two-decade-long experiment to determine if Democratic Islamists can evolve along the lines of European "Christian Democrat" parties. We don't know the outcome, but this experiment is nine decades in the making.
Ennahda pleased enough voters to win a plurality, but Tunisia's situation is far more fragile. Last week, optimists in Tunisia were shaken when Ennahda general-secretary and (as of Monday) the country's prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, indicated he supports a new caliphate. Jebali quickly tried to clarify his comments as those of a pious Muslim advocating fair government. A gaffe by a man using a spiritual metaphor? Or a slip revealing Jebali's real agenda?
The future of Tunisia relies upon Jebali's integrity. He campaigned as an advocate of parliamentary government. The caliphate is not a jobs program. Clerical governments epitomize cronyism. If Jebali's Democratic Islamism is a fraud, Tunisia may draft a constitution, right before it descends into civil war.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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