Magazine article The Middle East

Will Tunisia's New Brooms Sweep Clean Enough?

Magazine article The Middle East

Will Tunisia's New Brooms Sweep Clean Enough?

Article excerpt

The victory of Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunisia's first free presidential elections has been widely welcomed. But Islamists and young Arab spring revolutionaries across the region will see the outcome as a further sign of the return of the old guard--as Gerald Butt explains./

When popular protests began in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in 2011 it was thought they would create a domino effect, removing entrenched autocrats and opening the door to democracy. The reality was something quite different. Each country coped with the upheavals in its own way and the results have varied. Few have seen the establishment of free and fair democracy.

The fate of Syria and Libya is unlikely to be known for some time. Many more lives will be lost and many more civilians forced to flee before solutions are found to the crises in these two countries. The same is true of Yemen, which appeared for a time to have found a unique and initially successful form of power transfer.

Egypt has been through periods of turmoil which saw the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president, his removal from power by the military and the election of a candidate from the ranks of the army. Tunisia has been by far the most successful of the countries to emerge from the morass of street protests and regime change--as the recent election of Beji Caid Essebsi shows.

But in both Egypt and Tunisia the new presidents represent the interests, in part at least, of elements of society that were prominent during the eras of Mubarak and Ben Ali respectively. The Egyptian army and, more significantly, its state security and intelligence services were largely untouched by the revolution. Reappearing on the scene, too, are some of the prominent political and business figures associated with the former regime.

The army's role in Tunisia is far less pronounced than in Egypt, and its institutions far more developed than in most other Arab states--a factor that helped the country to weather the storms of the past years. …

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