Tunisia heads to polls as Arab countries face anti-democratic crackdowns

Published 21.08.2019 00:04

At least five prominent names have already decided to run in the upcoming presidential race in Tunisia after the surprise death of Beji Caid Essebsi, the first democratically elected president following the 2011 revolution, late last month.

Indeed, the scene of more than a hundred candidates rushing to submit their documents to vie in the battle was heartening. As we, in the Arab world, have yet to get used to that level of democracy after being governed by totalitarian and dictatorial regimes since gaining independence from the French and English colonizers in the 1950s and 1960s.

Tunisian democracy stands strong these days after it has hopefully managed to survive the wave of counter-revolutions which hit many of the Arab Spring countries, most notably Egypt, Yemen and Libya from 2013 to 2016.

Thanks to the outpouring of money from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the counter-revolutionary coalition has been working strenuously to reverse any pro-democracy results in these capitals by seeking to strengthen their military generals at the expense of the political elites and civilian powers.

Tunisia was also a target for this coalition after the UAE, according to media reports, spent millions to buy off the loyalty of dozens of Tunisian politicians and media professionals. These bids came with a view to smearing the image of the Ennahda Party and exerting pressure over the late President Beji Caid Essebsi to break off his alliance with the Ghannouchi-led party. A handful of Tunisian leaders were hailing Essebsi's firm position in repulsing these bids and leading Tunisia, during a transitional period, to safety.

The significance of the Tunisian model to the Arab countries comes as it, day after day, proves that democracy can work inside a Muslim and Arab country despite the notorious views of some Western scholars who argued that democracy is not appropriate in these places. Following the ouster of the dictator Bin Ali, Tunisia conducted several presidential, parliamentary and local elections, all of which went smoothly and placidly.

Hence, while Tunisians gear up for their second presidential elections in less than five years, the Egyptian people are still being oppressed under tyrannical military rule. The youth and activists there are still subject to extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances with thousands of others languishing in solitary confinement.

At the time Tunisians celebrate their eighth year of democratic transition, the UAE-backed Gen. Khalifa Haftar has been pounding his country's capital, Tripoli, since early April with the aim of bringing Libya back to the heinous Moammar Gadhafi era.

The situation in Yemen is not better; after the civil war its counterparts led to vastly devastating large parts of the country. The fingerprints of the UAE in Yemen are pretty clear as its forces are backing the separatist groups at the expense of the legitimate and internationally recognized government.

The U.N. alas has termed the current situation there as "one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times," after the damage was extended to the country's economy, health, education and infrastructure.

Nevertheless, the months-long Sudanese and Algerian rallies gave us a light at the end of the tunnel. At the time the counter-revolutionary coalition was achieving big triumphs in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, it had been stunned by the simultaneous events that erupted in both countries. No one was ever thinking that the protests will break out in these countries following the endless warnings that the Arab masses became deterred by the Syrian failed case.

The events in the two countries made many commentators feel optimistic that if Haftar's forces are defeated in Tripoli's surrounding areas, pro-change presidents win in Tunisia and Algeria, and the Sudanese transitional period stays stable, we can say that a new rebirth will arise in the Arab region from the Maghreb.

* Ph.D. student at Yıldırım Beyazıt University's Department of International Relations

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