x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Transition is a time to talk, not protest

Renewed unrest in Egypt, and in Tunisia, provides a reminder that in a time of transition, every element of society should strive to show good faith and forbearance, and to take part in civil national dialogue.

The euphoria has died down, the world's media has moved on and harsh reality has set in. A few months after the headiness of the popular uprisings in both Tunisia and Egypt, public discontent is once again simmering.

As The National reported yesterday, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the Tunisian capital's central promenade, and its surrounding streets have for the past five days been scenes of unrest against an interim government still harboringmany elements of the hated old regime. On Saturday night, the government imposed a curfew in greater Tunis. And the country's prime minister suggested that July's elections, for an assembly to draw up a new constitution, could now be delayed. This is not the scenario Tunisians envisioned when Zine el Abidine Ben Ali stepped down as president in January.

"It's frustrating: one moment people are on the terrace enjoying themselves, the next there's a demonstration and then police everywhere," said Montasser Jomni, who runs a cafe on the avenue.

In Egypt too, ongoing protests are hindering progress. The new military government has provided significant signs of good faith and promises of real reform since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow on February 11. An election has been set for October. And yet protests continue.

It is to be expected that in the wake of a popular uprising, a lack of clear leadership brings uncertainty; progress towards open democracy means people must be free to demonstrate. But it is also clear that Tunisia and Egypt have reached a point where true dialogue is urgently needed to implement genuine change.

The first step towards real reform comes in overhauling civil institutions and bringing them in line with the demands of the people and the responsibilities of the new government. Continuing protests on the street will not achieve this.

Both governments must engage opposition groups and those who contributed to the uprisings in open dialogue. Meanwhile, whatever their lingering concerns, the people should allow the new governments the chance, and time, to organise elections and otherwise bring about reform.

Compared to Libya and Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt witnessed relatively peaceful transformations. It would be a shame to discard that due to a lack of constructive dialogue.