Austin Bay

Three years after the Jan. 14, 2011, fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia continues to be Arab Spring's most promising revolution.

Despite economic troubles, bitter disagreements over the legal status of Islam and terror attacks by Islamist militants, Tunisia has managed to escape the communal horrors afflicting post-Arab Spring Syria (war) and Libya (violent chaos).

Tunisia's Islamist-led coalition government has also managed to avoid (while closely observing) the Egyptian revolution's two complex, but intimately connected historical disappointments: (1) the divisive, religious identity-politics constitution uncompromisingly written and imposed by the Islamist identity-politics victors of Egypt's free, post-revolution election and (2) the Egyptian military's subsequent popular and nationalist coup which toppled the inflexible, incompetent, distrusted, though democratically elected Islamist government, which imposed the destructive constitution.

No doubt the mistakes made by Egypt's former president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood regime informed and perhaps even tempered the decisions of Tunisia's political Islamist Ennahda party. Ennahda has its share of Islamist extremists who are as disagreeably short-sighted and self-destructive as Morsi.

However, Tunisia's revolt preceded Egypt's. In November 2011, Ennahda won Arab Spring's first free election and assumed governing and constitution-drafting responsibilities well before the Brotherhood governed in Cairo. Ennahda's key leaders also publicly committed themselves to creating a democracy, well before Morsi and his cadre gave Egyptians a similar assurance.

But Morsi and his cohort lied. Enshrining Islamist identity-politics in the post-revolution constitution superseded revolutionary unity. It also killed democracy. Though at times they wavered, on the essential issues, Ennahda's leaders kept their word. They shared power with secular allies and when conflicts occurred, ultimately (if begrudgingly) sought consensus solutions. Muslim Brotherhood religious belligerence alienated secularists. When Morsi confronted serious challenges, he invoked rule by decree.

Austin Bay

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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