Tunisia and the Arab World
By KATERINA DALACOURA, Wall Street Journal, Jan 17, 2011
Is the Tunisian "revolution" heralding widespread democratic change in the Arab world? Will there be a domino effect of authoritarian regimes toppling one after the other in the region?
Our thinking about these issues tends to be shaped by the Eastern European experience. But the democratic transformations in Eastern Europe occurred in short succession from one another because they shared an important element: the removal of the Soviet "hand" that weighed on their polities.
No such common outside oppressor exists in the Arab world. Change in Tunisia, to the extent that it will occur, may not herald democratization elsewhere in the region.
The Tunisian political situation may share common characteristics with those of other Arab states: rule by a centralized, authoritarian regime; a dominant family that exercises power through patronage and has become increasingly corrupt; control through the army and, more importantly, the security and intelligence services.
However, there are also important differences. Tunisia is in many ways unique in the region in that it is socially homogeneous and has a wide middle class.
Historically, Tunisia enjoyed a strong labor movement, secular opposition parties, and a vibrant civil society—the Tunisian League for Human Rights is the oldest in North Africa. It is also relatively wealthy, not suffering from the widespread and persistent poverty as other parts of the region do.
Its Islamists are some of the most moderate in the region. They haven't been associated with violence. Extremists have carried out attacks in Tunisia in the name of Islam but they have been sporadic. However, it is true that the country's regime carried out concerted attacks on independent centers of political power and civil society over the past 23 years.
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