x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A regional newspaper considers Tunisia's new politics

Arabic-language newspapers confront Salafist statements on Israel and the importance of long-term advocacy of the Palestinian cause

Tunisia's Ennahda-led government has to balance new freedoms with old strengths

In an opinion article for Abu Dhabi's newspaper Al Ittihad, the Mauritanian writer Assayed Wildabah reflected on the formation of the new Ennahda-led cabinet in Tunisia.

The formation of the coalition government reflects the outcome of the recent parliamentary elections in which the Islamists and their allies won the majority of seats. But the Tunisian public, which is still relishing the euphoria of the revolution, is awaiting every new development with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

"It isn't easy for a country that, for the past 60 years has been ruled by the logic of supreme leadership, disciplinary authoritarianism and the one-party mentality to get quickly familiarised with the coalition and political partnerships," said the writer.

Tunisians have yet to get accustomed to the style of their democratically elected president Moncef Marzouki with his simple, down-to-earth attire and his honest, direct language.

Although the president has embarrassed his allies with his recurrent provocative statements, especially on foreign issues, and although some of his first decisions were too hasty, such as his decision to sell the presidential palaces, many are still wagering on him as an ethical guarantee for the democratic transition despite his limited authority.

In reality, as one of Tunisia's intellectuals said, Tunisia may indeed be in need of Mr Marzouki's humble persona, which should demystify the position of the president and remove the august aura that surrounded it for decades.

However, the new political equation in Tunisia isn't without its own problems that may affect the future of the country's democratic experience. The biggest challenge facing the new government is to reconcile between the demand for renovation and emancipation from the previous pattern of rule and safeguarding the gains and inheritance of the modern state as established by the independence leader Habib Bourgiba.

These gains are the solid educational system, the liberation of women and the creation of an infrastructure capable of attracting foreign investment.

There is also the fear of a possible clash between Ennahda and the public that is eager for immediate change and quick fixes.

"Although the Tunisian Islamists have been making big efforts to dispel the fears of civil society and the liberal faction about compulsory Islamification measures, the pages of daily newspapers still abound with articles and opinions expressing public concern about the Islamist rise and its possible impact on the Tunisian modern model," the writer concluded.

Salafist interview on Israel was inconsistent

Who cares if an Egyptian Salafist spoke to the Israeli military radio, what is important here is what he said and the repercussions of his statements in Egypt, in Israel and in the entire region. After all, the Islamists were the ones who started accusing anyone who dared to talk about peace and negotiations with Israel as treasonous, wrote Tariq Homayed, the editor of the London-based daily Asharq Alawsat.

The Islamist Nour party official Yussri Hammad's recent statements to an Israeli radio station sparked a wave of controversy in Egypt. His fellow party members have been adamantly defending him; some of them claim he was tricked by the Israeli reporter and others deny the statements altogether.

Mr Hammad said his party did not object to the peace treaty with Israel and that if there were any articles in the treaty that needed amendment, it could be done in negotiations. He added that Egypt was committed to previous agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel and that he welcomed all tourists arriving in Egypt, including Israelis.

"If the Salafist Islamic party, and before it the Islamic Brotherhood, admit to the Camp David Treaty and believe in negotiations, then why did they overwhelm the region with accusations of treason and westernisation?" asked the writer. "Why did they waste years and support wars if they respect peace treaties and negotiations?"

A shared responsibility on Palestinian issues

As the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat announced that the situation of the Palestinian Authority will be subject to serious discussions next year to guarantee the international recognition of Palestinian statehood, we are all required to support steps that will ensure that Palestine's file remains in circulation in the relevant international institutions, said the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan in its editorial.

"Palestinians must press ahead in their efforts to claim their membership with the UN and, at the same time, they must seek to resume negotiations," said the paper.

The continuation of diplomatic efforts indicates that, although Palestinians are incapable at the moment of a military victory over Israel, they can pave the way to victory by accumulating points to their credit internationally, just as they did when they managed to gain membership in Unesco.

The US and its allies will not be able to continue to impose their policies and to terrorise other parts of the world. The year 2011 and its Arab Spring have dispelled the fear and broken the shackles that held people back from demanding their national rights, Al Bayan concluded.



* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem