“Why Tunisia’s Revolution Is Islamist-Free”

In Foreign Policy, Michael Koplow offers his background view of the dark irony behind the sudden fall of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali — a history of ruthless suppression of Islamist opponents — and a warning for those dreaming of a domino effect:

Unlike in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, and most other secular Arab autocracies, the main challenge to the Tunisian regime has not come from Islamist opposition but from secular intellectuals, lawyers, and trade unionists. The absence of a strong Islamist presence is the result of an aggressive attempt by successive Tunisian regimes, dating back over a half-century, to eliminate Islamists from public life. Ben Ali enthusiastically took up this policy in the early 1990s, putting hundreds of members of the al-Nahda party, Tunisia’s main Islamist movement, on trial amid widespread allegations of torture and sentencing party leaders to life imprisonment or exile. Most influential Tunisian Islamists now live abroad, while those who remain in Tunisia have been forced to form a coalition with unlikely secular and communist bedfellows.

The weakness of Tunisia’s Islamist opposition also makes it difficult to forecast how other Middle Eastern regimes would react to similar protests. It is unthinkable, for example, that Mubarak would not choose to crack down more viciously on protesters given the very real possibility that, if overthrown, Egypt would become an Islamist state. Given the unique nature of Tunisian society, observers hoping that Ben Ali’s fall will portend a similar fate for other Arab autocrats may be left waiting a lot longer than they might now think.

[Thanks to Anthony Cox.]


  1. steve
    Posted 01Mar11 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Yes, quite right. It could never happen in Egypt. Quite a different matter from Tunisia.

    And certainly not Libya. Heavens no.

    The funniest thing in this unintentionally funny post is that the ‘Foreign Policy’ scribe – so symptomatically highlighted on a ‘Euston Manifesto’ web site – seems to take it as a given that what motivates Mubarak above all is concern to ensure that Egypt doesn’t come to be governed by Islamists. Yes, that’s what accounts for his reluctance to leave office: he’s just so worried that his successors might violate the rights of women, etc. If that means he has to “crack down viciously on protesters,” well, what choice does he have, really?

  2. Posted 01Mar11 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    I posted this article, back in January, with my own only comments clearly expressing disapproval of the brutality of the Tunisian regime. To help you with your comprehension, Steve, the words “dark” and “ruthless” are something of a clue here.

    Then I followed it up a couple of days later with two posts linking to articles that disagreed with this one.

    I very occasionally post links here to interesting articles that Eustonite bloggers have linked to. When I agree with them, I say so. When I don’t, I don’t. I’m sure people would love it if there was some discernible Eustonite “line” to be drawn from this kind of thing, but there isn’t — because we don’t have one. If you’d bothered to read the document itself, you’d know that’s one of the points of the Euston Manifesto.

    What’s “unintentionally funny” here is that you claim to have identified such a line — in this case that we support Mubarak’s “cracking down viciously on protesters” — and that you make that claim directly under a post where I express the opposite sentiment and immediately before two posts that disagree with the article in question.

One Trackback

  1. […] blogger Mick Hartley takes issue with at least one aspect of the article by Michael Koplow that I linked to previously, as well as linking to Christopher Hitchens’ 2007 and 2011 commentaries on the political […]

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