x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Compromise in Tunisia offers a lesson for region

As genuine steps towards democracy are taken, Tunisia continues to set the example for other Arab countries to follow.

Ten months since the ousting of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and only weeks after the country's first free elections, Tunisia continues to serve as a role model for other Arab countries undergoing their own fledgling reforms.

The latest cause of optimism came on Tuesday. Reports that Moncef Marzouki, a veteran human rights activist and the head of the Congress for the Republic party (CPR), has been selected as Tunisia's new interim president, was another example of how compromise and maturity are the new order in Tunis.

The decision to install Mr Marzouki was reportedly reached between Islamist party Ennahda, which won 89 of 217 seats in the election and CPR, which came second with 29 seats. If confirmed Mr Marzouki will serve next year while a new constitution is drafted.

Mr Marzouki's appointment is encouraging in many ways, both symbolic and practical. For starters he is considered one of Tunisia's most respected secularists, appealing to leftists and liberals, and with whom Islamists appear willing to work.

But more than the man is the method of his selection. Ennahda, banned under the previous regime, was a wild-card; some feared the moderate Islamist party would renegue on promises to forge a compromise government. So far, the party has done just the opposite.

This is good news for Tunisia, but it may be better news for the region. Indeed, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria now have an emerging Arab democracy to aspire to. From a relatively smooth setting up of a caretaker government and inclusion of former members of Ben Ali's party, to open campaigning by candidates and violence-free elections, Tunisians have navigated their democracy's early days well.

To be sure, the road ahead remains littered with obstacles. Corruption and unemployment are persistent challenges that Mr Marzouki and his new government will need to address. Tunisians' optimism and patience will not be open-ended.

For now, though, only outsiders seem restless. As one translator based in Tunis recently noted, the foreign journalists she was working with "lost patience" with the slow pace of vote counting. Results were only finalised on Monday - three weeks after voting.

While a government that moves in deliberate fashion may be boring for observers, boring is just what the Arab world needs right now.