Magazine article New African

Tunisia, One Year after the Spring: The Country That Gave the World What Has Come to Be Known as the Arab Spring Has Seen One Year Go by since Mohamed Bouazizi, the Fruit Seller, Set Himself Ablaze and Unwittingly Ignited a Revolution That Has Swept through the Arab World. So What Is the Position in Tunisia One Year after Bouazizi's Immolation? Kate Eshelby Went to Find Out

Magazine article New African

Tunisia, One Year after the Spring: The Country That Gave the World What Has Come to Be Known as the Arab Spring Has Seen One Year Go by since Mohamed Bouazizi, the Fruit Seller, Set Himself Ablaze and Unwittingly Ignited a Revolution That Has Swept through the Arab World. So What Is the Position in Tunisia One Year after Bouazizi's Immolation? Kate Eshelby Went to Find Out

Article excerpt

AHUGE BLANK WHITE SPACE looms above. "Pictures of Ban Ali used to be every-where,"says raja, A female student from Tunis. main street, sprawls of graffiti read "Tunisia is democratic and free" and "How beautiful without Ben Ali and 40 thieves".

Tunisia, the fuse for the Arab spring, now has what the locals call"democracy"(although Raja dislikes the term Arab Spring"because it refers to a season that does not last, whereas we want to build on this")

In Tunisia's recent democratic elections, Ennahda, a moderate Islamic party, won the most cotes - one if the first times in the Arab world that this has been allowed to happen.

Tunisia has always been Muslim, but secular. Yet since the arab spring, there has been a rise of political Islam. Which raises the question of whether democracy and Islamism can work together.

"Ideologically, Islam and democracy can't work, but in practice they can," according to Lorenzo Kluzer, an EU representative in funis. "Those who voted Ennahda want democracy," he continues. Tunisia, however, is different from the surrounding copycat revolutions - and it looks to be the exception, not the norm."

At least ex-President Ben Ali's departure and the elections went smoothly-a far cry from Libya and Egypt, where democracy faces the challenge of the military.

"Tunisia is more liberal than its Arab neighbours, with an educated society and relatively advanced women's rights, left over from President Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's first leader after independence. It is also religiously homogeneous, with no ethnic differences," Abdelkader, my Tunis host, says. Raja, however, believes that religion and politics should be separate. "Islam bans a lot of things which democracy does not," she says. "And religion is based on dogma."

Either way, Islam is undoubtedly now a player in the democratic game. But whether Islam and democracy link hands in Tunisia hinges on whether Ennahda becomes modern or conservative. "The problem is there are many variations of Is-lam depending on how the lawmakers interpret the Koran," Abdelkader explains.

Some Tunisians argue that an Islamic Enlightenment is needed. "We should interpret the Koran according to the 21st century," Abdelkader says. "I am a believer, but having lived with the religion, I know it is hard for Islam to be moderate unless there are reforms."

You may ask whether we are already seeing the birth of an Islamic Enlight en o enment because Ennahda-- like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood - was voted in by reformers and women. Yet it was not reform of the religion that the voters wanted. "It wasn't about Islam but young people craving freedom, work, and dignity," Raja explains.

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Raja has a degree, speaks five languagcs fluently; yet cannot find a job. This is common in Tunisia. Ennahda won because they worked the populist angle and went into poor areas - the Islamic strongholds. As the Islamic festival, Eid, was approaching, the party tactically gave away presents of sheep to voters to win their votes. "Byzantine methods were used, telling people they were a bad Muslim if they didn't vote for them," Raja says.

Ennahda has also, however, been busy promoting religion: they see themselves as the Renaissance of Islam; campaigning that only a return to Muslim values can repair society. Some of their comments are more extreme than others - and with their double language it is unclear which way they are heading.

A local TV channel showed young people talking in front of a mosque, saying how Tunisians had lost their religion and roots. …

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