Sunday, October 23, 2011

Springtime for Islamists in Tunisia?

At LAT, "Tunisia vote could shape religion in public life":

This nation that inspired revolution across the Arab world is facing another bellwether moment that may again foreshadow what happens throughout the Mideast in the intensifying battle between secularists and Islamists over the role of religion in shaping public life.

Tunisians will vote Sunday for a constituent assembly that will set the course for a new government and write the nation's laws. Islamists, suppressed for decades by autocratic rule, are poised to win big, a prospect that has liberals and secularists worried about the future of civil liberties.

The outcome will be the latest evolution in a tumultuous year of Arab rebellion that last week saw Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi killed and his half-naked body laid out in a souk's cold-storage locker, a gruesome show of contempt that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.

But it has been a year of the unfathomable: Here in Tunisia, the suicide late last year of a desperate fruit seller launched an uprising that in January brought down President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. With quickening speed, revolt spread to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown weeks later. Today, as the words "Arab Spring" have become the catchy lexicon of rebellion, the entrenched leaders of Yemen and Syria face gathering forces arrayed against them.

The pressing concerns facing Tunisia mirror those of other countries trying to advance beyond the grip of tyrants. Voters here say they do not want the vital issues of joblessness, economic problems and widening youth disenchantment to be eclipsed by an Islamic agenda.

But ambitions of Islamists have been simmering for years in a region where police states arrested their leaders and muffled the voices of fiery clerics. Freedoms brought by the Arab Spring are reigniting debates between Islamists and secularists, but also between ultraconservative and moderate Muslims over how deeply religion should permeate society.
Also at WSJ, "Large Numbers Turn Out for Tunisian Vote" (via Google):
Democracy activists across the region hope that a successful vote here could galvanize pro-democracy movements that have flagged amid violent regime crackdowns, as in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, and by a pushback by old-guard counterrevolutionary forces, as in Egypt.

Among the countries that have overthrown leaders, Tunisia presents the most fertile seedbed for democracy, say analysts: It has a relatively large and educated middle class. Women enjoy a measure of equality unmatched in the Arab world. The country has a tradition of civil rule both before and after January's revolution. With a relatively homogenous population of 10 million, the country also suffers from few ethnic and sectarian rifts.

The question is the degree to which Tunisia's vote will apply to the likes of Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Syria, where uprisings have been bloodier and rife with internal tribal, sectarian or regional tensions. Tunisia may stand as an aspirational example, analysts say—or as a bar set too high.