Lessons from Egypt and Tunisia

The lessons learned from Egypt and Tunisia are that the only solution for the successful handling of transitions, away from the reproduction of authoritarian models – even those with good intentions – is a collaborative approach during the fundamental building stages, regardless of the outcome of the ballot boxes.

A few days ago, a group of citizens attacked the premises of the Labour Union in Tunis in order to prevent the celebration of a syndicate leader's martyrdom from taking place. A number of union members were beaten and subjected to verbal attacks by people who claimed they were defending the achievements of the revolution, and who accused union members of being remnants of the old regime. This is an old, broken record being played over and over again by groups formed from the masses who are unconsciously being led by political leaders with limited awareness themselves and who, regardless of having won or lost in the elections, believe that resorting to intimidation and violence belongs to political dialogue and public work.

What has and is currently taking place in Tunisia is coupled with acts of violence and distrustful speeches in Egypt – occurrences that will undoubtedly be repeated in all the countries experiencing change. What becomes clear through these counter political practices is the political “elite”’s lack of culture in public work. This inevitably reflects, and with tremendous negative impact, on the general public. Such lack of public work understanding is also at the basis of the misunderstanding of the democratic process of voting and the belief that favorable voting results are equivalent to a blank sheet of paper onto which the winner can inscribe whatever he wishes, using an ink at his discretion with the script that pleases him and a language to his liking, or even yet to dispose of it whenever he chooses. Losers on the other hand are to remain quiet, resort to defeat, regret and waiting. This is a superficial understanding of the meaning of democracy, and constitutes authoritarian abuse, in thought and in approach, of a collective activism that broke down the barriers of fear and acted as a bulwark for the interests of various social classes with their individual political and ideological orientations.

The Syrians, who are waging their revolution with their activists and apathetics alike, are observing events in Egypt and in Tunisia with concern and apprehension as to where the situation is leading. Because of the fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of politics, the elected political majority is gradually changing into an authoritarian hegemony that antagonizes, marginalizes and excludes the other, to the point of placing their patriotism and their faith in question. On the other hand, those who lost the elections are reduced to the position of dismissed critics, devoid of a role to contribute in the stimulation of the political process and active participation in the incremental learning process of politics.

Alongside the continuation of armed struggles in Syria and the delay of a facilitative and fundamental political framework, anxiety is growing about political, security and moral violations carried out by the stronger force on the ground, which considers itself to have forestalled election results. Far from a real understanding of the nature of the Syrian people, miscalculations and flawed projections can lead to a divergence from the fundamental path which is based on popular consensus, and which is remote from the politics of division and the language of the victorious and the authoritarian.  

The lessons learned from Egypt and Tunisia are that the only solution for the successful handling of transitions, away from the reproduction of authoritarian models – even those with good intentions – is a collaborative approach during the fundamental building stages, regardless of the outcome of the ballot boxes. The concept of a democracy does not end at the ballot box, and those who deem it as decisive in the initial stages should work on expanding their political culture.

About the author

Salam Kawakibi is deputy director of the Arab Reform Initiative

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