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Tunisia and Egypt One Year On

By       Message Esam Al-Amin     Permalink
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In the case of Tunisia (at 11 million people, it is less than one-seventh of the Egyptian population of 82 million), a comfortable alliance has taken shape between the moderate Islamic movement and the liberal-leftist-religious-friendly parties. On the other hand, in the Egyptian scene, the Islamists (moderate and conservative) received a much bigger piece of the pie, and the liberal and secular forces are nervous and skeptical. In Tunisia, the military has withdrawn from political life for the most part, while in Egypt the military is still in control and demands to have a large, if not dominant role, behind the scenes going forward.

Further, Tunisian society, which is 99 percent Muslim, is more homogeneous and women were elected to over 40 percent of parliament. In Egypt, Christians comprise 8-10 percent of society, feel discriminated against and very apprehensive about the role of religion in public and political life. Meanwhile, Egyptian women, although very prominent during the revolution, were elected to only 2 percent of parliament. In Tunisia, the Islamic movement claims to have developed its philosophical doctrine to be completely in harmony with democratic principles and governance. In Egypt, the Islamic parties struggle to harmonize their understanding of what democracy means and promise to develop their own model that will be compatible with their ideology and understanding of Islam on the one hand and democracy with its grandiose promise of personal freedoms on the other.

Tunisia is considered a minor country in the Arab-Israeli conflict or the ensuing Iranian-Western confrontation, with minimal demands asked of it from international powers led by the United States. On the other hand, Egypt is a major country in the region with respect to both conflicts, and has maintained a peace treaty (although very cold) with Israel. It has also been historically applying tremendous pressure on the Palestinians (both the Palestinian Authority and the resistance movements) succumbing to American and Israeli pressures. The behavior of the future government of Egypt towards these international conflicts will determine not only its relationship with major powers in the world as well as international financial institutions, but also its future relationships with regional pro-Western countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, which it desperately needs for investments and economic development.

In short, Tunisia promises a much smoother transition to a more stable society and democratically functioning system than Egypt. But with the cautious moves of the FJP and other Islamic parties, Egypt's future also appears to be heading towards steady though slow progress, and following a promising yet challenging path. However, it's important to keep in mind that all these significant changes in both countries are taking place while severe economic problems and hardships are mounting, and as they struggle against enormous foreign interference and external pressures.

Cross-posted from Counterpunch

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.

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