Tunisia's Industry Minister, Mehdi Jomaa, smiles in his office in Tunis. Tunisia's ruling Islamists and opposition parties agreed Dec. 14 to name the aerospace engineer as prime minister of a caretaker technocrat cabinet to govern until elections next year.

On Arab Spring anniversary, Tunisia again inspires

Just as a 2010 protest sparked an Arab uprising for democracy, Tunisia shows that an Islamist party in power will peacefully step down.

In a new democracy, a critical moment occurs when the first elected leader peacefully gives up power. In the United States, that came when George Washington left the presidency. In the Arab world, a similar event will soon take place in the country that sparked the Arab Spring three years ago this month.

Tunisia’s elected government has agreed to step down in coming days as part of a political consensus to end a stalemate in the North African country. Such an amicable handover is remarkable enough in the Middle East. But what stands out is that an Islamist party, Ennahda, is giving up the reins of state, albeit under political pressure.

Rather than cling to power based on a claim to theological infallibility, the party recognizes that a society of differing forms of faith must be governed by secular democratic principles. Ennahda’s humble act will be a moment as historic as the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi three years ago on Dec. 17. His singular protest for dignity and justice inspired a popular uprising that ousted a dictator and woke up the Arab people to their inherent right to freedom.

The Arab Spring has faltered in places such as Egypt, Syria, and Libya. And despite its own rough moments, Tunisia provides a lesson in how to adopt the necessary qualities – freedom, tolerance, equality, inclusiveness, and adherence to law – to build a democracy. “Our country serves as a candle that lights the region,” said Ennahda’s founder, Rachid Ghannouchi.

Since the post-revolution elections in 2011 that brought Ennahda to power, Tunisia has seen political upheaval, rising unemployment, and the assassination of two high-level opposition figures.

The turmoil created widespread distrust of Ennahda, forcing it into talks with the opposition. The two sides agreed to let a respected technocrat, Mehdi Jomaa, run the government until fresh elections in early 2014.

Tunisia is more fortunate than other Arab states in having many pro-democracy activist groups, a history of secular rule, a large educated middle class, and close ties to Europe. It has also learned from many recent mistakes made in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Iraq.

Rather than totally exclude members of the former regime, for example, Tunisians welcomed those with a record of reform. Civilian leaders learned not to alienate the military. And leading politicians showed a spirit of compromise at the right moment. They were all too aware that winner-take-all power struggles – such as those in Egypt – can lead to disaster.

But the biggest lesson is that Islam and democracy can be compatible in Tunisia if there is dialogue, respect, and an accommodation for religious views and practices. Winning those traits in a democracy is more powerful than winning elections.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to On Arab Spring anniversary, Tunisia again inspires
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today