Tunisia is struggling to map out its post-revolutionary future, but early signs
indicate the diminutive Mediterranean state may be falling short of hopes it
could serve as a regional model for good governance.
Tunisians will elect a new government and choose whether to adopt a presidential
or parliamentary system. But a constitutional draft completed earlier this month
expressly prohibits normalization of ties with Israel, while upholding support
of the Palestinians as state policy and enshrining Islam as the country's
official religion.RELATED:Tunisian secularists take on Islamist extremists Column One: Caution: Storm approaching
Tunisia was the site of the first of the Arab
uprisings that have rocked the region since late last year. A frustrated fruit
vendor's self-immolation in December led to mass street protests that by the
following month had unseated President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in
The country is homogeneous, relatively prosperous and has a
tradition of secularism and women's rights - Tunisia was the first Arab state to
legalize abortion and remains one of the few anywhere in the Islamic world where
it is allowed. Observers had hoped these characteristics would help turn Tunisia
into an example of progressive Arab democracy.
Early this month, the
authority in charge of post-Ben Ali political reform adopted a "republican pact"
to form the basis of a new constitution. The completed pact included the
provision prohibiting ties with Israel, though some commission members
reportedly favor leaving it out. Islamist parties, along with Arab nationalists
and extreme leftist factions, are pushing to implement a constitutional
provision that would ban normalization of relations with Israel.
reports spurred some 600 people to rally in the capital Tunis a week ago,
threatening to unseat leaders believed to support normalization with the Jewish
state. Tunisia and Israel briefly opened interest sections in each other's
capitals in 1996, but that cooperation ceased in 2000 with the outbreak of the
"Death to all Tunisians attempting to normalize
relations with Israel," said Ahmed Kahlaoui, who chairs a committee opposing the
restoration of diplomatic ties. "We will denounce them and publish their names,"
he said, the AFP news agency reported, speaking at a meeting attended by
hundreds of people, some waving anti-Israeli banners. Participants performed
songs, dances and poems, and Tunisians veterans who took part in the 1948
Arab-Israeli war gave testimonies, AFP reported.
"We can no longer trust
this body's members, which includes academics who support normalization with
Israel and have had ties themselves" with Israel, Kahlaoui said. The recently
banned Islamist party Al Nahda (Renaissance) opposes removing the
anti-normalization provision, as do Arab nationalist factions and those on the
extreme left. Polls show Al Nahda enjoys roughly 20 percent of the electorate's
Earlier this month, Islamists of the extremist Salafi movement
attacked a cinema in Tunis for screening a film about secularism. Hamadi
Redissi, president of the Tunisian Observatory
for a Democratic Transition,
wrote in an op-ed in Saturday's New York Times
that Al Nahda "wants to fashion
itself in the image of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, known as
the A.K.P. Yet unlike the A.K.P., Al Nahda has never abandoned its hopes for an
Islamic state and is strongly opposed to the separation of religion and the
state." Of the provision banning normalization with Israel, Redissi wrote, "This
is a foolish position that harks back to the obsolete rhetoric of the 1960s.
Tunisia is seeking to fully integrate its Islamists — but perhaps at its peril."