Speaking to Ahram Online in Cairo at a conference examining democratic transformation in the Arab world, prominent political activist and sociology professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim described Tunisia’s revolution as the “Cinderella” of the Arab Spring, in comparison to the difficult transitions of other Arab states.
“No one expected the Tunisians to adopt extraordinary decisions; the act of revolution is one of those decisions,” he said. Ibrahim added that Tunisia embodied, later, the "spark that ignited the road to several uprisings" within other Arab states.
On 17 December 2010, a young Tunisian called Mohamed Al-Bouazizi set himself alight in an act of desperation, after an altercation with local police. Revolts broke out across Tunisia, and the young man died the following month. On 14 January, Tunisian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country after 23 years of rule. He was later tried in absentia.
Eleven days later, on 25 January, widespread protests broke out in Egypt against then-president Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for three decades. Mubarak stepped down on 11 February as massive crowds filled Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Ibrahim talked about Rashid Al-Ghanoushi, who is the leader of the Islamist Ennahda Party, Tunisia’s largest political organisation and the majority-winner within the constituent assembly which will draft the awaited post-Ben Ali constitution.
“I met him several times, whether in Tunisia or in his old exile in London; Al-Ghanoushi is definitely a moderate Islamist politician in regards to all social, political and economic issues”, Ibrahim stated.
He mentioned that Al-Ghanoushi told him before that Ennahda had left the positions of president and parliamentary speaker for non-Islamist figures, in a bid to prove its intentions towards consensus, not political domination.
Ibrahim praised Ennahda’s interpretation of the contentious relationship between religion and politics, and said that the Tunisian leader yearns for democracy without discrimination or elimination of any party or trend, and advocates a government that sponsors all religions and reflects the will of society, and is not a guardian of society.
Ibrahim said that Al-Ghanoushi adopts a neutral position when asked about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, expressing his acceptance of their political path as long as it is approved by Egyptian society. He said that Al-Ghanoushi highly respects and appreciates the Muslim Brotherhood, but he avoids tensions with them; Islamists care about their relations “with each other.”
Elections in Tunisia in October resulted in an interim coalition led by the majority-winning Islamist Ennahda Party in a coalition with two liberal parties. Ennahda has taken a moderate track in the country, which has a strong secular heritage, refraining from seeking to base the new constitution on Islamic law.
The Ennahda-led government has also allowed social and political groups to form a "high commission" that will push forward the goals of the revolution. From day one, a roadmap was designed for the transitional phase and required institutional and constitutional changes to construct a democratically-based state.
The new constitution is expected to empower all sects in a balanced manner.
Ibrahim expressed his worry about the “uncertain” path of the democratisation process in Egypt, but said he was still optimistic about the country's future, despite the obstacles it faced.
Finally, Ibrahim talked about the turbulent situation in Syria, which he believes should be ended as quickly as possible. He urged the international community to intervene in the crisis and seek to compromise the demands of all blocs of society. He favoured the idea of a transitional council as one solution to stop the bloodshed.
He highlighted the country's geo-strategic position and borders with Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Turkey, arguing that domestic turmoil in Damascus might threaten the stability of the region.
"Al-Assad's family is spending its last days in power; this corrupt and tyrannical regime has been in power for 40 years, which is the longest among other Arab dictators."